By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Board of Pardons Monday granted its first full pardon since 1984.

It went to 61-year-old Maria Elizondo, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to fraudulently receiving $25,000 in food stamps and state benefits. Supporters helped Elizondo, who is suffering from cancer, repay the full amount.

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Now with the pardon, she will not be deported. Her son, North Dakota National Guardsman Jorge Elizondo, led the pardon effort. He translated for his mother during their WCCO’s interview.

“I’m very happy now that I am free,” Maria Elizondo said.

Elizondo, who entered the country illegally as a teen, thanked the state’s three-member pardon board, who all voted in favor of the pardon. The three members are Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Gov. Tim Walz.

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Maria Elizondo (credit: CBS)

Elizondo she said committed fraud to feed her family. She has apologized and served time under home monitoring. The only hurdle was paying back the full $25,000. Two University of St. Thomas law students — Andrea Meitler and Zachary Port — launched a successful GoFundMe campaign to help Elizondo. Meitler says it was a lesson in law, and forgiveness.

“What she did was a serious crime. There are people who are going out there who say she shouldn’t have got a pardon. What do you say to that?” WCCO’s Esme Murphy asked Meitler.

“What I say to that is that there is a power of mercy,” Meitler said.

And for her son Jorge, there is gratitude that his ailing mother will not be sent back to a country she doesn’t remember.

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“Thank you very much to everyone that has been a part of this,” Jorge Elizondo said.

Esme Murphy