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Probable Cause for Search Warrant: Tan Nguyen Conviction Affirmed

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Remember that 2006 Orange County scandal with Tan Nguyen, the wannabe congressman who sent letters to Latino immigrant voters to discourage them from voting? Well, it’s almost over.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that federal prosecutors were permitted to use fruits of a state search to support federal obstruction of justice charges against Nguyen, finding that there was probable cause for the search warrant.

Since it's been almost six years since the events in this case happened, let's back up and review the bad life choices that landed Nguyen in federal prison.

In October 2006, Mailing Pros, Inc. mailed about 14,000 letters on behalf of customer "Mark Lam" to newly registered voters with Hispanic surnames who were born outside of the U.S. Each letter recipient had registered as a Democrat or declined to state a party. The letter was written in Spanish, and advised recipients that "there is no incentive for voting in this country."

While there may not be an incentive to vote, the letter listed plenty of disadvantages to voting. Recipients were informed that voters' personal information would be collected by a newly implemented government computer system, and that anti-immigration groups might request information from this system. The letter also warned that illegal immigrants who voted could face incarceration and deportation.

It didn't take long for state authorities to trace the letter back to Nguyen, who was challenging incumbent Loretta Sanchez, a Latina who had strong support in the Hispanic community, for the seat. Nguyen admitted that he had limited knowledge of the letter prior to its mailing, but stated that he believed that it was created and distributed by an acquaintance, Mark Nguyen, also known as "Mark Lam," and sent independently from the campaign.

State authorities didn't believe Nguyen, so they obtained and executed a search warrant for his home and campaign headquarters. The warrant turned up emails showing Nguyen's involvement in drafting and mailing the letter.

The state ultimately decided not to charge Nguyen, but the feds later slapped him with obstruction of justice charges. Nguyen was convicted and sentenced to one year and one day in jail, reports the Huffington Post.

Nguyen appealed, arguing that there wasn't probable cause for the state magistrate to believe that a crime had been committed and that the search was likely to reveal evidence of that crime. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, holding "Although Nguyen was never prosecuted for a violation of the election laws, in light of the contents of the letter and the facts surrounding its distribution, there was a fair probability that the campaign mailing constituted a tactic of intimidation intended to induce its recipients to refrain from voting.

Tan Nguyen's attorney, H. Dean Steward, told the Metropolitan News-Enterprise that Nguyen will skip en banc rehearing, and petition the Supreme Court for review.

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