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SD Republican activist found guilty in robocall case

MADISON (AP) — A jury took slightly more than an hour late Thursday to convict a Republican political activist of breaking state election law by engineering illegal automated political calls before the 2012 election.

Daniel Willard, 32, was found guilty Thursday of four misdemeanor counts, the Argus Leader and KELO-TV reported. Each count carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

He was sentenced to 30 days in jail for each count, but the time was suspended, Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a news release.

Authorities accused him of setting up the robocalls targeting GOP legislative leaders he and another man believed failed to support veterans — without filing the required disclaimers identifying the sender.

Prosecutors argued that Willard, who has clashed with leaders in his own party, used his personal credit card to buy a cellphone that was used to make the calls.

His lawyer, Shawn Tornow, argued that his client was targeted for prosecution for political reasons, that a co-conspirator in the robocalls was an unreliable witness and that the law hadn't been broken because Willard's political organization wasn't clearly required by law to register with the Secretary of State before engaging in political communication.

But Assistant Attorney General Brent Kempema countered that Willard's involvement in the placement of political calls ensured they couldn't be traced to the organization behind it. The calls were attributed to the group "Veterans Against Unethical Politicians," a group that wasn't registered with the Secretary of State in South Dakota or with the federal government.

Gary Dykstra, who's accused of helping Willard, testified Wednesday and was given immunity from prosecution for doing so.

One of the people who got a call was Senate Majority Leader Russ Olson, who was also one of the targets. He filed a complaint with Secretary of State Jason Gant, who, by then, also had received a call.

Gant was the last to testify at the trial, saying he questioned the legality from the start and then asked the attorney general's office to investigate, which ultimately led to Willard's criminal charges.