A local political activist, accused of casting a vote where he was not living two years ago, was spared jail time. Instead, as part of a plea deal, Rus Thompson was sentenced Wednesday to three years probation.
The sentence given by State Supreme Court Justice Russell Buscaglia comes following a plea deal, by which Thompson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of offering a false instrument for filing.
Thompson's political activism over the years has ranged from campaigning for the elimination Grand Island bridge tolls to gun rights to involvement in the Tea Party. His attorney, Thomas Eoannou, suggested in court that his client made a mistake but did not intend to commit fraud. He also claimed that the original felony charges, for which Thompson could have faced prison time if convicted, were politically motivated.
"I firmly believe it was election year politics," Eoannou said. "We started out at the plea being multiple felonies, requesting a prison term up to four years. The election cycle ended and it was a misdemeanor with no jail. Nothing changed with the facts."
Thompson said outside the courtroom that he is "good" with the sentence. He thanked Eoannou for his help and also thanked current Erie County District Attorney John Flynn for giving him a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
"When the new DA was elected, he saw it for what it was and he came out and said this guy is not a felon," Thompson said. "When the felony charges were dropped, I thought it was a just and right thing to do."
What matters most to Thompson, he stated, was that by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, he retains his rights to vote and bear arms.
Although he went along with the plea deal and sentenced Thompson to probation, Judge Russell Buscaglia disagreed with the defense's claims that the case was politically motivated and that Thompson's wrongdoing was a "clerical error."