Phoenix, Arizona – Friends and acquaintances of Richard Miranda, the son of migrant farmworkers who rose to become an Arizona state legislator, are pushing for leniency when he is sentenced Monday for defrauding a charity he formerly headed of nearly $145,000.
Those pleading for leniency include a senior Arizona congressman, current and former state lawmakers and a community college president. Miranda faces many years in prison.
Miranda is to be sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver on the Tolleson Democrat's March 14 guilty plea to federal charges of wire fraud and tax evasion.
Miranda resigned suddenly from the Legislature on Feb. 16, citing family and health concerns. He had been a member of the Legislature since 1999.
Miranda's defense lawyer recently submitted 18 letters to Silver for consideration "in reaching a just disposition of this case."
For the letter writers, that means avoiding or minimizing time behind bars.
U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said he'd known Miranda's family for more than 40 years and Miranda for more than 20 years. He said the family enjoyed a "stellar reputation in the community" and that Miranda warrants consideration of leniency because of his extensive community service.
"Richard clearly understands he made a grievous mistake when he undertook this out-of-character behavior," Pastor wrote.
Current or former legislators who wrote letters on Miranda's behalf included ex-Rep. Martha Garcia, D-Phoenix; Rep. John Filmore, R-Apache Junction; former Sen. Vic Soltero, D-South Tucson, and Rep. Anna Tovar of Tolleson, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
Tovar and other writers referred to circumstances of Miranda's upbringing.
Miranda, the son of parents who were migrant farmworkers, admitted diverting money from the proceeds of the sale of a building that belonged to a charity that helped low-income people, particularly farmworkers.
"It was a difficult environment but Richard turned that experience into a positive," Tovar said, adding that Miranda had a passion for educating children.
Ernest Lara, president of Estrella Mountain Community College, pleaded for probation. Miranda's "mistake has cost him dearly and I firmly believe that he deserves an opportunity to repay the community for the trust he has broken," Lara said.
Lara was not alone in describing Miranda's wrongdoing as a single mistake, though the federal charges listed dozens of acts between May 1, 2005, and Aug. 13, 2008, that made up the crimes.
"This singular lapse in judgment should not define a lifetime rooted in concern for all people," wrote Tolleson Mayor Adolfo Gamez.
The Justice Department did not respond immediately Friday to an inquiry about its preference on a sentence for Miranda.
The department said previously that Miranda could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison, be fined up to $350,000 and ordered to pay restitution of approximately $230,000. That amount is approximately $85,000 more than the amount that Miranda admitted diverting from the charity.
The charity, Centro Adelante Campesino, provides English lessons, GED instruction and computer programs to needy families.