INDIANAPOLIS | A Gary couple and a former East Chicago city employee were sentenced to 18 months probation Tuesday on felony vote fraud convictions related to the 2003 mayoral primary.

Sentenced Wednesday were Alycia Mendiola and Antonio Mendiola -- a Gary couple who owned a flower shop in East Chicago -- and Eduardo Perez Sr., a former city worker whose son ran for City Council in 2003.

The Mendiolas pleaded guilty to one count of voting in a precinct where they did not live, while Perez pleaded guilty to one count of fraudulently receiving a ballot.

In the 2003 primary, longtime Democratic Mayor Robert Pastrick emerged the victor in the three-way race. However, the Indiana Supreme Court later tossed the results, citing "overwhelming evidence" of misconduct involving absentee votes.

Indiana Attorney Steve Carter, who attended Tuesday's sentencing hearing in Lake County Superior Court, said he has yet to rule out conspiracy charges in the vote fraud investigation, which so far has brought 45 indictments and five convictions.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that there was this extent of vote fraud -- that it was a historic level," Carter said. "No, I don't think that was by accident, but I'm not prepared to characterize it beyond that."

To date, the allegations have centered on Pastrick, who has not been charged with any crime. Carter would not, however, absolve the challengers -- Lonnie Randolph and current East Chicago Mayor George Pabey.

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"Based upon those that have been charged thus far, I think there's evidence that the fraudulent activity wasn't limited to one campaign," he said.

Pabey won the 2004 special election ordered by the Supreme Court and faces re-election next year.

Carter said he hopes East Chicago citizens will learn from those currently being convicted who "suffered a degree of embarrassment and have brought humiliation to their community. We hope that many people will be aware of that and not allow this to happen again."

All three defendants sentenced Wednesday have cooperated with the investigation, Carter said, declining to elaborate.

As convicted felons, Perez and the Mendiolas are stripped of their rights to vote.

If any of the defendants violate the terms of their sentence, the result could be a state prison sentence.

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