Longtime political activist sentenced to probation for voting charge

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s been a nearly two-year fight for personal freedom for a man who’s been battling in the name of constitutional freedom for the past 25 years.

In the end, Rus Thompson, formerly of Grand Island, isn’t going to jail, but rather back home, where he’ll remain on probation for up to the next three years.

“I’ve had a target on my back for a long time,” Thompson said Wednesday morning after his sentence was handed down. “And it was an opportunity for them to strike and they got me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going away.”

Whether the felony charges of voter fraud he originally faced were meant to settle a larger political score, or whether they rose to the level of legal severity remains in question. He pleaded guilty to filing a false instrument.

But Thompson’s attorney, Thomas Eoannou, said the timing cannot be ignored.

“I firmly believe that it was election year politics,” Eoannou said. “Again, we started out with multiple felonies at a prison term of up to four years. The election cycle ended, and it was a misdemeanor, no jail. Nothing changed with the facts.”

Once he was elected, the county’s new District Attorney John Flynn downgraded the charges from felonies to misdemeanors, giving Thompson room to take a plea.

But he said Wednesday’s decision was just.

“I didn’t think it was a felony,” Flynn said. “I didn’t think the charges that he was originally charged with rose to the level of what he did. But the fact of the matter is he committed a crime, he plead to the appropriate crime and he was given an appropriate sentence.”

Thompson used the word nerve wracking when he described the past several months, walking to and from courtrooms in front of TV cameras.

But in front the cameras Wednesday, after being able to avoid jail, his demeanor was noticeably improved.

“I’ll talk politics all day. You guys want to hang around a little bit longer, ask me any question you want,” he said laughing.

Had he been convicted of felonies, Thompson would have been stripped his right to vote and bear arms — two rights for which he’s fought most of his life, even held rallies.

“Because I am very political, the right to vote is crucial to me, and the Second Amendment is something I’ve been fighting for for years,” he said.

Eoannou said he and his client will likely return to court in a year to ask for the three-year probation sentence to be shortened.

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