TAMPA – The man charged with hacking the voter registration records of Gov. Ron DeSantis days before the 2020 election will plead no contest next week in the case in southwest Florida and expects to be sentenced to two years of probation under an agreement with prosecutors, his lawyer said.
Under the plea deal, Anthony Steven Guevara, 20, of Naples, Florida, would avoid having a felony record, said his lawyer, Mike Carr. He was expected to enter his plea Tuesday morning in Collier County Circuit Court, according to Carr and the court docket.
In an interview, Carr described the crime as an effort to point out weaknesses in the state’s voter registration systems.
Also under the deal, Guevara expects to be assigned 100 community service hours and fined an amount that represents the cost of the investigation and prosecution against him, said Carr, a former prosecutor and state circuit judge. He also would be permitted to ask a judge to end his probation after just one year.
A no contest plea means a defendant admits the truth of the charges against him. Under the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to withhold adjudication, meaning Guevara would technically not have a felony record at the conclusion of the case, Carr said. That would prevent Guevara from forfeiting the civil rights typically denied to felons, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office or possess firearms. Felons also can face lifetime restrictions on employment, housing and some international travel.
“This is a mistake of the head, not the heart,” Carr said, describing Guevara as a decent young man. “He honestly thought he was doing something good. He was pointing out a weakness in the system and he’s paying quite a price on it.”
The prosecutor’s office declined through a spokeswoman to discuss the case before next week’s plea hearing.
It’s unclear whether DeSantis approved of the terms of the plea deal. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request to talk about the case.
The plea settles a dispute about whether DeSantis – who is running for re-election next year and widely expected to run for president in 2024 – would have been compelled to testify personally in the trial, set for August. Defense lawyers subpoenaed the governor, but the judge had declined to pre-emptively enforce the order to appear amid questions about whether it had been properly served.
DeSantis, a former Navy lawyer who campaigned for governor as a tough-on-crime Republican, earlier had rejected a request to have the criminal charges dropped under a so-called “diversion offer.” Such programs allow less serious offenders to avoid prosecution and a criminal conviction that can carry lifelong consequences, but they require the victim’s consent.
Guevara told investigators that, using his Hewlett-Packard laptop, he also had accessed the voting records of Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and celebrities who included Michael Jordan and LeBron James, according to court records.
Guevara declined through his lawyer to talk about the case. Prosecutors originally charged him with accessing a computer without authorization and altering a voter’s registration records without consent, both felonies.
Guevara apologized personally to the governor in a letter he sent earlier during plea negotiations, his lawyer said.
DeSantis discovered his voting registration records had been changed when he tried to vote in the state capital in Leon County in October, days before the 2020 election, court records said. The address for his primary residence was changed to the home of a minor YouTube celebrity in West Palm Beach. The governor was able to correct the issue and voted.
Within a day, state criminal investigators quickly identified the internet address that had been used to change the governor’s address, and traced it to Guevara’s family home in Naples, where they served a search warrant with sheriff’s deputies.
Guevara acknowledged to agents that he made the changes, saying he found the governor’s date of birth on Wikipedia, and demonstrated on an agent’s laptop how he had accessed the records, according to court records.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com.