A former state representative from Everett was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Boston to four months in prison for cheating the absentee ballot process in two elections in which he won.
Stephen Smith, 57, a married father of four, will also serve a year of probation and must pay a $20,000 fine. He was ordered to report to a prison, to be designated by the US Bureau of Prisons, by May 21.
US Magistrate Judge Leo T. Sorokin said in handing out the sentence that Smith had betrayed the trust of his constituents in Everett.
“Fair and honest elections are really the foundation of our society,” Sorokin said.
A stoic Smith apologized to the court and to Everett, looking back at his family members including his four children in the courtroom, some in tears.
“I am very sorry,” he said. “I hope and pray in time things will get better.”
A longtime public official, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, Smith resigned from his legislative post effective Jan. 1, when he would have begun a new term after winning an uncontested election in November. Under an agreement with prosecutors, he will not seek elected office for five years.
Smith had served on the Legislature’s Committee on Election Laws.
He pleaded guilty in December to two misdemeanor counts of deprivation of rights under color of law.
Assistant US Attorney Eugenia M. Carris described the scheme: In elections in 2009 and 2010, Smith or someone acting on his behalf cast fraudulent absentee ballots supporting his candidacy.
The ballots were in the names of people who were ineligible to vote in Everett or, in some cases, the ballots had been fraudulently cast in someone’s name without that person’s knowledge and with the signature being forged.
“This is a campaign strategy gone awry,” Carris said.
Smith had faced 18 to 24 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, though Carris had recommended that he serve six months and pay a $40,000 fine, a significant variance from the guidelines.
The prosecutor said the scale of his crime was far less severe than the typical definition of voter fraud: No money or threats were involved, and the concept was based on campaign strategies before Smith started to forge signatures.
Peter Horstmann, Smith’s lawyer, had asked that Smith serve only probation, calling his client a dedicated public servant who bent to the pressure of winning closely contested elections.
Smith would encourage people to cast absentee ballots, only to learn they never did. In Smith’s view, he was filling out ballots for them, Horstmann said.
But Carris responded that the crimes were more severe than portrayed and that Smith’s excuse that he felt pressure from the election was “a little akin to saying, ‘Mom, the test was hard, so I cheated.’ ”
Family and friends of Smith had written to Sorokin pleading for mercy, but others from Everett — most did not identify themselves, saying they feared retribution — wrote asking for a tough sentence.
“It’s a disgrace,” wrote one who signed the letter as a “disgusted Everett voter.”