Last week, a judge in Maryland found two Republican campaign operatives from Virginia guilty of violating Maryland’s state election laws by sending out an anti-LGBTQ robocall intended to smear the opponent of Anne Arundel County Councilman Michael Anthony Peroutka, reports The Capital Gazette.
The two operatives, Dennis Fusaro and Stephen Waters, were sentenced to a year in jail with all but 30 days suspended for violating and conspiring to violate Maryland campaign finance laws, as well as three years of unsupervised probation and a $1,000 fine. Fusaro is Peroutka’s former campaign manager.
District Court Judge John McKenna, Jr. said he issued a sentence that was harsher than the one recommended by state prosecutors, in order to deter the two from repeating their crime, and to send a message to other political consultants warning them of the consequences if they undertake similar actions.
Attorneys for the men say they plan to appeal the verdict.
Fusaro and Waters faced charges stemming from a 2014 robocall against Patrick Armstrong, a Democrat running for Anne Arundel County Council against Peroutka, a social conservative with ties to the anti-secessionist League of the South. The message was sent to nearly 5,000 Anne Arundel County residents in the week prior to the 2014 election by a group calling itself “Marylanders for Trasngenders” — which turned out not to exist.
The text of the robocall congratulated Armstrong for coming out of the closet and attempted to link him to Maryland’s 2014 law prohibiting discrimination against people based on their gender identity, which had only passed a few months earlier.
“Transgenders can now openly and freely go into any bathroom of their choice based on their confused gender identity,” the robocall read. “Tell Patrick to continue to stand loud and proud in support for transgenders’ equal rights. While our opponent argued that children could be at risk by sexual predators with this new law, we celebrate the rights of transgenders and what this does for equality for transgenders in Maryland. Call him today and thank him for supporting the bathroom bill.”
Armstrong, who is gay, went on to lose to Peroutka by 1,952 votes.
Peroutka, who testified under an immunity agreement as a witness for the state, said he was unaware of the robocall until after it was released, and would not have approved it had Fusaro consulted him beforehand.
“I consider the call in question to be inconsistent with Christian principles and the boundaries of civil discourse,” Peroutka said. “I felt compelled, though I had nothing to do with this call, to personally apologize to Mr. Armstrong for the discomfort and inconvenience that this incident has brought to him and his family and his many friends.”
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