BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Tuesday was judgment day for a pair of political operatives. The trial surrounded a robocall that was made during an Anne Arundel County Council race back in 2014.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a judge at the Glen Burnie District Courthouse found both Stephen Waters and Dennis Fusaro guilty of violating state election laws and sentenced both to 30 days in prison. The two declined to comment as they left the courthouse Tuesday.
The judge said their guilt was “overwhelming” and their role in the robocall was “crystal clear.”
“We absolutely plan to appeal, 100%. I don’t think the court understood the details of this case” says Mandeep Chhabra, Defense Attorney.
Both Waters and Fusaro were found guilty of violating Maryland election law in connection with the robocall that went to 5,000 homes in a conservative district. Fusaro was the former campaign manager for Michael Peroutka and Waters was a political consultant from Virginia.
It all started back in 2014 when Patrick Armstrong squared off against Michael Peroutka for an Anne Arundel County Council seat. What was a typical race until a robocall came into play.
The call was in reference to Armstrong and said “Call Patrick today and thank him for his bravery in coming out of the closet. Transgenders can now openly and freely go into any bathroom of their choice.”
Armstrong ran as an openly gay man, but the call linked him to supporting so-called “Bathroom Bans.”
The call claimed it was “Paid for and authorized by Marylanders for Transgenders.”
“And the law requires candidates to do that so the public knows who’s paying for what,” says former State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.
Many considered the call an attempt to smear the openly gay candidate. Republican Michael Peroutka eventually went on to win the race.
This robocall is about more than politics. According to Armstrong, it also impacted his family.
“At the end, they mention my parent’s phone number and ask people to call, which to me is disgusting. People calling saying I can’t believe you support the transgender community, I can’t believe you support this bill. So yeah, we got quite a few. We did.”
Waters and Fusaro were both workers for Peroutka’s campaign and were charged with failing to identify the source of that call. A judge found both guilty of 2 counts each on Tuesday and handed down what some considered a harsh sentence of 30 days in jail – considering the State didn’t ask for jail time.
The judge said it was important to send a message in a case like this and added that the point of the harsher penalty was to try and make sure no one else repeats the same crime moving forward.
Years later, Armstrong says he’s breathing a sigh of relief.
“I think the state did an excellent job with this case and the judge handed down a fair ruling,” says Patrick Armstrong.
When asked if he thought these calls ruined his chances of winning the election back in 2014, Armstrong said: “You know, it’s tough to say. It was an extremely close race back then at the time. I guess we’ll never really know.”
Both Waters and Fusaro were sentenced to a year in prison with all but 30 days suspended, a $1000 fine and 3 years of unsupervised probation.
Their attorneys says they plan to appeal, one expressed his frustration in court adding: “We’ve seen people charged with marijuana, even reckless driving in the past, who don’t serve a year in jail. To serve jail time for something like this, just doesn’t add up.”
The verdict will not change Peroutka’s win and he is not facing any criminal charges.