(FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) – When police arrested Joel Santiago-Vazquez last year, they found a stash of powder and crack cocaine hidden in a false bottom of a Pringles potato chip can.
Police also found, according to their report, that federal immigration authorities had "no record of (his) entering the country". A detainer was issued, and Santiago-Vazquez became one more illegal immigrant caught in the crosshairs of the federal government.
But FOX Undercover found out something else about Santiago-Vazquez. He's been registered to vote from his home address in Lawrence since 2010.
Our investigation shows he's not the only registered voter in Lawrence who is not a citizen. By cross-checking Lawrence voter records with criminal records that included records indicating lack of citizenship, we found three others:
* Bruno Paulino is a legal resident detained by immigration authorities earlier this year, has been a registered Lawrence voter since 2009;
* Jose Jimenez, a legal resident who faces "potential deportation to the Dominican Republic", according to federal court records, has been a registered Republican in Lawrence since 2010;
* and Marcos Acosta, picked up during a recent immigration sweep, has been a registered voter in Lawrence since 2008.
Acosta's attorney, Jeffrey Rubin, said, "He's not aware that he did and he has no recollection of ever registering or agreeing to register."
Rubin's client and the three others could be facing big problems for registering, even though none of the four voted, according to the Secretary of State's spokesman. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services website notes, "Registering to vote or voting in a federal election is a crime if you are not a U.S. citizen."
Finding out who is and isn't a US citizen is difficult to do without access to confidential immigration databases. FOX Undercover found the four after checking just a few dozen names of criminal defendants facing deportation against voter databases, making it highly likely that many more non-citizens are among the nearly 36,000-thousand registered voters in Lawrence.
Lawrence mayor Willie Lantigua wouldn't return our phone calls, so FOX Undercover investigative reporter Mike Beaudet caught up with him outside City Hall.
"Wanted to talk to you about the voter list in the city," Beaudet said, but Lantigua just said "Hello" and continued walking to his truck.
"We found some problems there are people who are registered - you're not going to talk to us sir. Aren't you the mayor of the city? Sir why can't you just answer some questions?" Beaudet said as Lantigua got in his truck and drove away.
Lawrence activist Wayne Hayes said he's not surprised at FOX Undercover's findings.
"I believe 15 to 20 percent of the voters in Lawrence are non-citizen registered voters," Hayes said. "The voter list is definitely corrupt...it needs one major, full investigation."
An investigation is just what Hayes and others asked for after witnessing suspected fraud during the 2009 mayoral election. Hayes was backing candidate David Abdoo, who was running against Lantigua.
"A gentleman was seen by one of the poll workers for Abdoo's campaign walk in and vote at one table, leave, come back, switch his jacket and put on a cap and went to the other table and voted there under two different names," Hayes told FOX Undercover.
After Lantigua won, Hayes scoured the 2009 voter list and found more problems, including people registered at commercial properties including a warehouse at 1 Broadway, a barbershop and what is now a sandwich shop at 241 Broadway and a former nightclub at 381 Essex St.
One Lawrence senior, Gloria Maheu, was shocked when she checked in to vote and found a woman she had never heard of registered at her address.
"How did I know who she was? I had never seen her and they told me, 'Why don't you stay here until she comes and votes.' I said, 'I'm not staying here all day and night!'" Maheu told FOX Undercover.
That stranger was actually registered twice at Maheu's address, according to the 2009 voter list, with the same name, the same date of registration and the birth dates exactly four months apart.
The voters registered at commercial addresses that FOX Undercover confirmed have since been removed from the voter rolls. And the woman registered at Maheu's address is also no longer registered there, though Maheu said it took two years of complaining until the city's former mayor finally took action.
But Hayes and others made other complaints to authorities, including Secretary of State William Galvin, the state's chief election official.
"What kind of reaction did you get from the authorities when you went to them with these allegations of voter fraud?" Beaudet asked Hayes.
"It varied from, 'Not my job' to no response at all," Hayes replied.
Secretary Galvin's spokesman said the secretary was too busy to talk about FOX Undercover's findings but did say that the problem rested with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. That's where the four non-citizens we found registered to vote through the Motor-Voter Law.
An RMV spokesperson says several of those voters shouldn't have been processed because they provided incomplete information on their enrollment forms.
"Given how difficult it was for us to even track down who is a citizen who is not a citizen, do you think there are even more people out there?" Beaudet asked Jessica Vaughan with the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.
"There must be," replied Vaughan. "Other states that have made an effort to vet their voter registration lists have found thousands of people on their voter lists and thousands of people who have voted in recent elections who are not citizens."
Those non-citizens were found in Colorado and Florida after secretaries of state there sued to force federal immigration authorities to check their states' voter rolls.
"Is Massachusetts making any effort to vet its list?" Beaudet asked her.
"No," Vaughan replied. "I haven't seen any effort on the part of officials in this state. In fact they seem to be more in denial that it could be a problem here."
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