Prosecutors say 32-year-old Dan Willard made up a fake organization to hide behind when he sent out robocalls criticizing Republican legislative leaders last fall.
Around 5:30 p.m. Thursday night, after about an hour of deliberation, a Lake County jury agreed with the prosecution and convicted Dan Willard on four misdemeanor election law violations.
Willard was the man who bought the TracFone to send out illegal automated robocalls during last year’s election. The prosecution said in their closing arguments if Willard didn’t use a credit card to buy that phone they still might not know.
“You know why Daniel Willard is on trial here today? He made a mistake. He used a credit card otherwise to this day we would not know who made these attacks,” Assistant South Dakota Attorney General Brent Kempema said.
All week the prosecution linked Willard to the calls through his credit card account, his email address and his IP address.
Willard’s defense argued there was no signature on the receipt and no security camera footage of Willard physically buying the phone. They argued his card could have been lost, stolen or used by someone else.
However, the jury didn’t buy that argument and convicted Willard of not properly registering his group ‘Veteran’s Against Unethical Politicians,’ with the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office.
“All I can say right now is that we are happy about the verdict and we appreciate the hard work that the jury put into it," Kempema said after court.
Willard was sentenced to 30 days of suspended jail time and given a $250 fine on all four counts. He also has to pay court costs.
After court Willard and his attorney, R. Shawn Tornow, tried to avoid KELOLAND News cameras and refused to comment.
Prosecutors said that even though the charges are misdemeanors this case is important because when groups send out critical campaign information they need to be held accountable.
“We don’t want people just going out and attacking other people, not in South Dakota," Kempema told the jury during closing arguments. "If we have something we believe in we stand up and say this is what I believe in. This is who I am. You don’t go hit and run."
Willard also faces a civil lawsuit for the robocalls.