Uncle of Missouri lawmaker admits to voter fraud

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 14, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — The uncle of a Democratic Missouri lawmaker has pleaded guilty to voter fraud in an election that his nephew won by a single vote — a circumstance that the lawmaker described Tuesday as "an unfortunate situation."

John Moretina, 60, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to giving a false home address that allowed him to register and vote in an August 2010 primary election in the Kansas City area. His nephew, John Joseph Rizzo, won a Democratic primary for a state House seat by a lone vote and went on to win the general election that fall.

Moretina's written guilty plea says he lived in the Kansas City suburb of Gladstone and was registered to vote there until July 9, 2010, when he gave election authorities a new home address that allowed him to vote in the 40th House District in which Rizzo was a candidate. Moretina admitted in court that he did not actually live at the new address.

Rizzo said Tuesday that he has not spoken to Moretina — who is the husband of his mother's sister — in quite a while. But Rizzo declined to directly answer a question from The Associated Press about whether he was aware his uncle had changed his address to vote in Rizzo's 2010 election.

"It's just an unfortunate situation," Rizzo said. He added: "I've never been contacted about it by any authorities."

After Rizzo defeated Will Royster in the 2010 primary, Royster raised allegations of voter fraud. He asserted that several of Rizzo's relatives and supporters who lived outside the district had voted illegally. Royster also alleged that a Rizzo supporter instructed a group of Somalis who couldn't speak English how to vote, and that some ballots were not signed by election officials as required by law.

But a state appeals court rejected Royster's request for a new election, and the Missouri House took no action on a petition from Royster asking it to invalidate Rizzo's 2010 election.

Royster told The Kansas City Star that he felt "sad" about Moretina's guilty plea.

"Legitimate voters, and their votes, were disenfranchised and nullified," Royster said.

The guilty plea filed in federal court said that Moretina also "attempted to obstruct or impede" federal agents by giving a false statement to them during the investigation.

Moretina could face a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $100,000 fine for the felony voter fraud count, but he also could receive probation. No sentencing date has been set.

Rizzo enjoyed a much more comfortable victory in 2012. He was uncontested in both the Democratic primary and the general election.

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