Big Sky Roundup

Phillips County voter fraud case vacated, being referred to ICE

By: - September 28, 2022 5:40 pm

Photo illustration by Getty Images.

An alleged voter fraud case out of Phillips County was vacated earlier this month, with the matter “being referred to U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement for further action,” according to a press release from County Attorney Dan O’Brien.

In January, Philippine citizens Grace O. Albia and Jannet Benitez Zeta, who were living and working in Montana, were referred by the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office for misdemeanor Deceptive Election Practices charges.

The two women allegedly falsified voter registration forms on Oct. 21, 2021, by saying they were U.S. citizens. They earlier pleaded not guilty, according to the clerk.

They no longer work or live in Montana, according to the release.

As outlined in the release published in the Phillips County News, a plea agreement recommended that they each pay the maximum fine and surcharges of $585 and receive a five-month suspended jail sentence. Albia and Zeta were scheduled to enter no contest pleas in court in September.

The court held a change of plea hearing Sept. 13 where counsel for the two women, Attorney Thane Johnson, was present, but both Albia and Zeta were absent, not appearing in person or by phone. County Attorney O’Brien then “asked the court to forfeit their bond for failure to appear as required by the plea agreement.”

“The court granted Mr. Johnson additional time to locate his clients before the court issues an arrest warrant,” O’Brien wrote.

O’Brien’s said the matter is also being referred to U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement for further action.” A search of the ICE Detainee Locator did not yield results for Albia or Zeta.

The case drew widespread attention but two political scientists earlier said the allegations weren’t indicative of election insecurity.

The case out of Phillips County was cited during the trial on Montana’s recently passed voting laws that took place in August in Yellowstone County. The three bills in question involved voter ID, same-day registration and prohibiting ballot collectors from being paid.

Election Day voting and using university identification to vote currently stand in Montana, as the Montana Supreme Court narrowly upheld a Yellowstone County District Court judge’s temporary injunction on two of the laws from the trial.

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