- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — A former state representative who left an obscenity-laced phone message with a colleague pleaded guilty to witness-tampering charges last week and was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

Ralph Arza, 47, also must perform 150 hours of community service, complete an anger-management program and seek alcohol-abuse counseling under a plea agreement negotiated with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, and felony charges were dropped.

Mr. Arza admitted that in October, he left a message containing a racial slur on the voice mail of a Hispanic state representative who had filed a House rules complaint against him. The lawmaker’s complaint accused Mr. Arza of using the same racial slur to refer to Miami-Dade County’s schools chief, Rudy Crew, who is black.

The plea agreement bars Mr. Arza from holding public office while on probation, which effectively means he cannot run again until 2010, said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Mr. Arza, a Republican, resigned his state House seat soon after the charges were brought in early November.

“For a powerful political figure like Ralph Arza, this is a strong sentence for the use of hateful speech in the hope of intimidating a witness,” she said.

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