Federal voting fraud charges were filed in Wilmington, N.C., Friday against 19 foreign nationals who allegedly voted in the 2016 election. A 20th person was charged with aiding and abetting one of the 19 in falsely claiming U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote.
The 19 were from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, the Philippines, Panama, Grenada, Guyana, Japan, El Salvador, Italy, Haiti, Korea, Germany and Poland. They ranged in age from 26 to 71.
Nine of the defendants were charged with making a false claim of citizenship in order to register to vote. Eight were charged with “voting by an alien.”
One of the 19 was charged with fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents as well as with voting by an alien.
One foreign national, from the Dominican Republic, was charged on Aug. 14 and pleaded guilty to two counts of passport fraud and voting by an alien. Ramon Esteban Paez-Jerez, 58, voted in Wake County in 2016.
Paez-Jerez was one of three foreign nationals who allegedly voted in Wake County in 2016. Others voted in Columbus, Cumberland, Wilson, Washington, Johnston and Beaufort counties.
Paez-Jerez first came to the United States in the 1980s. He was deported, then returned using a fake identity. In 1999, under that assumed identity, Paez-Jerez became a citizen and subsequently obtained a U.S. passport.
Paez-Jerez faces 11 years in prison and a $350,000 fine. He is to be sentenced Dec. 11 in New Bern.
The maximum penalties for the others range from six to 26 years in prison, with maximum fines of $100,000 to $350,000.
At least nine of the defendants were longtime legal permanent residents of the United States. One, Dieudonne Soifils of Haiti, has been a legal permanent resident since 1976. Two have been legal permanent residents since the mid-1980s and two since 1990.
Two of the defendants had applied for but were denied citizenship. One of them was not denied citizenship till 2017, after the election.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the cases are being investigated by the newly created Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
North Carolina elections officials reported in 2017 that they had found that about 500 ineligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 general election – not enough to change the outcome of any race. The vast majority of those voters have a felon in their criminal history. Under North Carolina law, active felons are not allowed to vote. That report did not include any evidence of fraud, and many of those who voted claimed to be confused about their eligibility.
About 4.8 million votes were cast in North Carolina in the 2016 general election.
The North Carolina General Assembly has voted to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would require voters to show a photo ID.