Miami-Dade prosecutors on Thursday charged two political operatives for Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez — including his campaign manager — with unlawfully submitting absentee-ballot requests online on behalf of voters. Campaign manager Esteban “Steve” Suarez, 34, who is also the candidate’s cousin, and campaign aide Juan Pablo Baggini, 37, were charged with attempting to request absentee ballots for 20 voters in May. Francis Suarez, a sitting city commissioner and lawyer, was cleared of any wrongdoing during the investigation, according to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. His only involvement was advising his campaign to seek legal advice to make sure any online requests did not run afoul of the law. The campaign did so — but failed to heed a recommendation that the requests be submitted differently to avoid potential problems, sources close to the investigation said.
Neither Steve Suarez nor Baggini were arrested. Instead, as part of a deal negotiated with prosecutors, each was charged with a misdemeanor, will plead no contest and will receive probation. Their attorneys will appear in court Friday.
In a statement Thursday to the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald, Francis Suarez emphasized that he and his campaign cooperated with the investigation and never had any “intent to violate Florida election law.
“To the extent that technical mistakes were made in the transmission of absentee ballot requests, the campaign has learned from this experience,’’ he wrote. “Now we must focus on the important issues that affect the daily lives of the City of Miami’s citizens and to bring a brighter future to our great city.”
He declined to elaborate beyond the statement, or address whether the charges would affect his campaign.