GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis is refusing to agree to have criminal charges dropped against a 20-year-old Naples man accused of hacking the governor’s voter registration file.
The refusal comes as a plea offer by the prosecutor in the felony case was set to expire this week, according to messages between the state attorney's office and defense lawyers.
DeSantis, who has been subpoenaed in the case to testify at a possible trial, would not consent to a so-called "diversion offer," Collier County prosecutor Deborah Cunningham wrote in an email. The South Florida man wrote a letter of apology to the governor, his defense lawyer said.
Such diversion programs generally free courts to focus on more serious crimes, and allow less serious offenders to avoid prosecution and a criminal conviction that can carry lifelong consequences. They also require defendants to accept guilt and require the consent of the person impacted by the crime, prosecutor and judge.
DeSantis, a former Navy lawyer, campaigned for governor as a tough-on-crime Republican and has been mostly reluctant to grant executive clemency to felons who applied for it.
His decision to press forward in the voting registration case means the defendant, Anthony Steven Guevara, can accept a plea offer or face trial later this month.
Guevara was charged in October – days before the 2020 election – with unauthorized computer access and altering someone's voter registration without their permission, both felonies.
Guevara told investigators he found the governor’s birthdate on Wikipedia and used it to access the voter registration record, then changed the governor’s address to that of a minor YouTube celebrity.
The governor discovered the change when he tried voting in Leon County, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee and was told his address pointed to a home in West Palm Beach. DeSantis was able to correct the issue and vote.
Under the plea deal Cunningham offered, Guevara would face 24 months of probation, perform 100 community service hours and pay the costs of the investigation and prosecution against him.
It was not clear how much that might represent, but it could be more than tens of thousands of dollars.
The plea offer was set to expire Tuesday, ahead of the next hearing in the case against Guevara. The trial was set for April 26, but it might be delayed until early May due to the pandemic.
Guevara’s defense lawyer, Mike Carr, declined to say whether Guevara will accept the plea offer but said they were ready for trial.
Carr described the case as a “political trial." He objected to the governor being consulted in the case, although Democratic Rep. Michael Grieco, a former state attorney in Miami, said it was normally required for state prosecutors to obtain consent for pre-trial diversion.
“Prosecutors are independent,” Carr said in an interview. He said DeSantis was receiving special treatment, influencing the prosecutor’s decisions. “She’s supposed to be representing the state of Florida. What’s owed to the alleged victim is transparency in the proceeding.”
Guevara made no efforts to disguise his digital footprints, court records showed. Carr said Guevara didn't act with malice and acknowledged he made a mistake. He said the case should focus more on the problems with Florida’s voter registration systems.
Editor's Note: This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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