Crystal Mason found out that Paul Manafort was sentenced to less than four years in prison on Thursday while serving time in FMC Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s incarcerated there because she illegally voted in the 2016 election.
Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, received a sentence of 47 months for his conviction on multiple charges related to false income tax returns, unreported foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a minimum of 19 1/2 years in prison. But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said that the recommended sentence would be “excessive” and that Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life.”
Lawyers and politicians, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), were outraged by the leniency of Manafort’s sentence. Some compared it to the five-year punishment that Mason received for illegally voting.
In 2016, Mason voted while on supervised release, a form of probation. At the time, she had no idea she was ineligible to vote. She had already served over three years in federal prison for tax fraud, but because she violated the terms of her supervised release by voting, she was sent back to federal prison for an additional 10 months. That was in addition to the five years in state prison she was given for the illegal voting itself.
HuffPost emailed Mason on Thursday evening and asked her about Manafort’s sentence. She said the leniency he received demonstrated how unfair the criminal justice system is.
“One of the main things the Judge said was ‘the guidelines are excessive.’ Unfortunately for those of us who can’t hire a million dollar attorney, nobody seems to believe our guidelines are ‘excessive.’ Thus the disparity in the ‘justice’ system,” she wrote in an email.
Before joining Trump’s presidential campaign, Manafort made millions as a lobbyist working on behalf of dictators and other clients with records of human rights abuses. Prosecutors in the felony case presented evidence that he kept millions of dollars in offshore bank accounts and lied to banks about it. They accused Manafort of also lying to prosecutors even after he agreed to cooperate with them last year.
“I only had 10 months left on supervised release and I was given another 10 months in prison and 26 months on supervised release. What I would like is for Trump to review my situation and Pardon me,” Mason said.
While Trump could pardon Mason for her federal crime, any pardon for her illegal-voting conviction would have to come from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who is unlikely to grant one.
Mason hopes to be released soon to a halfway house and is appealing her five-year state sentence to the Texas Court of Appeals. Before she reported to prison in September, she spent her last days of freedom encouraging people to vote. The rules addressing when people with felony convictions can vote vary confusingly from state to state and Mason told HuffPost last year that she wants to work to make sure people clearly understand their voting rights.
Mason said she wasn’t particularly politically engaged before the 2016 election ― she voted because her mom wanted her to cast a ballot. But now she said she spends a lot of time watching the news in prison. She was following the case of election fraud in North Carolina in which a political operative illegally collected absentee ballots on behalf of Mark Harris, a Republican candidate for Congress. The North Carolina Board of Elections ordered a new election last month after finding sufficient evidence that the contest had been tainted by fraud.
The operative, McCrae Dowless, was indicted on criminal charges last week. Mason said it was unfair that he and others were free while she sat in prison.
“Nothing have happen[ed] to them,” she wrote. “I am sitting in prison over a provisional ballot. Are you serious.”
Listen to HuffPost’s interview with Mason in Episode 2 of “Shut Out,” a podcast about the fight to vote in America.