Florida: Ex-congressman’s top aide to plead guilty to breaking election law | Miami Herald

A former campaign manager for one-time Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia plans to plead guilty Thursday in Miami federal court to financing a tea party candidate in a scheme to siphon votes from his Republican nemesis. In April, Jeffrey Garcia was charged with a misdemeanor of conspiring to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000 to the shadow candidate in the 2010 Miami congressional race. Prosecutors said Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, surreptitiously put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo to pose as a GOP challenger to David Rivera in the general election. Arrojo was also charged with the same misdemeanor.

Florida: Feds charge ex-congressional chief of staff with secretly funding 2010 ringer candidate | Miami Herald

Federal prosecutors on Friday accused former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia’s ex-chief of staff of secretly financing a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010 to draw votes away from a Republican rival — an illegal scheme that appeared to inspire a more serious copycat case two years later. Jeffrey Garcia was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense. Prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to pose as another challenger to David Rivera. Arrojo was also charged Friday with the same misdemeanor.

Florida: Ex-aide to Miami Rep. Joe Garcia to head to jail in absentee-ballot case | Miami Herald

Congressman Joe Garcia’s former chief of staff will head to jail for orchestrating a fraudulent, online absentee-ballot request scheme during last year’s elections. Jeffrey Garcia, the Miami Democratic congressman’s longtime political strategist, will spend 90 days in jail as part of a plea deal reached with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, the Miami Herald has learned. The deal, expected to be inked Monday, will require Garcia, 41, no relation to the congressman, to plead guilty to requesting absentee ballots on behalf of voters, a felony. His attorney, Henry Bell, noted Garcia never “touched a ballot, manipulated a vote or otherwise interfered with anyone’s vote.” “He accepts responsibility for his conduct which involved requesting absentee ballots for voters when it was the voters themselves who are required to make the requests,” Bell said in a statement. “Jeff is a good person who made a mistake. He is sorry and is doing the right thing in admitting this and accepting responsibility.”

Florida: Manatee County learns from Miami-Dade’s phantom ballot scandal | Bradenton Herald

The cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach will have city municipality election Nov. 5 where voters will choose city commissioners, city council members and a mayor. A new system of checks in the Manatee County Office of Elections will be used to guard against absentee ballot fraud. The new system, which involves some software and coding for the ballots, has evolved over the last few months after a scandal involving phantom absentee ballots in Miami-Dade, said Michael Bennett, supervisor of Manatee’s Office of Elections. Bennett traveled to Orlando last week to meet with other Florida election office supervisors who were addressed by Miami-Dade officials. “Miami-Dade officials went over what exactly had happened to them and how they caught it,” Bennett said. “They walked us through it so we would all be on the same page going forward.” In Miami-Dade, hackers submitted thousands of phony ballot requests online at the Miami-Dade Elections Department, according to a Miami Herald investigation. More than 2,500 such requests were flagged by the Miami-Dade Elections Department after they were found to have originated from only a handful of Internet Protocol addresses.

Florida: Miami-Dade should take steps to thwart absentee-ballot fraudsters, advisory group says | Miami Herald

Members of a group advising Miami-Dade on how to improve its elections want the county to try get ahead of the curve of fraudsters who have attempted to manipulate the system by submitting phantom absentee-ballot requests online. “Folks are always going to try to figure out weaknesses in the system in order to sway it to their advantage,” County Commissioner Dennis Moss, one of the group’s members, said at a meeting Wednesday. The elections department, he said, should work proactively to foresee where would-be computer hackers might try to attack next. They have already attempted one scheme: submitting thousands of phony ballot requests online for unsuspecting voters. More than 2,500 such requests were flagged by the department last summer because they originated from only a handful of Internet Protocol addresses.

Florida: Online ballot fraud marks the ‘e-boletera era of Miami politics’ | Miami Herald

The election scandal dogging Congressman Joe Garcia’s campaign and two state House races makes it clear: Computer techies are supplementing old-school, block-walking ballot-brokers known as boleteras. Over just a few days last July, at least two groups of schemers used computers traced to Miami, India and the United Kingdom to fraudulently request the ballots of 2,046 Miami-Dade voters. Garcia said he knew nothing of the plot that recently implicated three former campaign workers, two employed in his congressional office. Investigators, meanwhile, have hit a dead end with a larger fraud involving two state House races. A third incident cropped up Thursday in Miami’s mayoral race, but the case appears unrelated to last year’s fraud when two groups appeared to act separately from each other. They employed different tactics to target different types of voters, a University of Florida/Miami Herald analysis of election data indicates. The ultimate goal was the same: get mail-in ballots into the hands of voters, a job that many boleteras once handled on the streets of Miami-Dade. Now, it’s electronic.

Florida: Police raid Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez’s mayoral campaign in absentee ballot fraud investigation | Miami Herald

Detectives raided a political worker’s home Thursday after he submitted other voters’ absentee-ballot request forms to help Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez’s mayoral campaign, which spun into damage-control mode and said no one intentionally broke the law. The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office targeted Juan Pablo Baggini after county elections workers flagged a series of 20 absentee-ballot requests made on May 29 that were linked to Baggini’s computer. “I can’t say anything, it’s an ongoing investigation,” Baggini, 37, said at his Coconut Grove office. He is listed as the “operations director’’ for Suarez’s campaign. The raid at Baggini’s Continental Park home was the second performed by police and prosecutors since May 31, when investigators searched three locations in a separate absentee-ballot fraud case involving the 2012 campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

Florida: Congressman Joe Garcia’s chief of staff implicated in phantom absentee-ballot requests scheme | Miami Herald

Congressman Joe Garcia’s chief of staff abruptly resigned Friday after being implicated in a sophisticated scheme to manipulate last year’s primary elections by submitting hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests. Friday afternoon, Garcia said he had asked Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, for his resignation after the chief of staff — also the congressman’s top political strategist — took responsibility for the plot. Hours earlier, law enforcement investigators raided the homes of another of Joe Garcia’s employees and a former campaign aide in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter. “I’m shocked and disappointed about this,” Garcia, who said he was unaware of the scheme, told The Miami Herald. “This is something that hit me from left field. Until today, I had no earthly idea this was going on.”

Editorials: Joe Garcia’s ballot scandal | MiamiHerald.com

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia says he’s angry — and was clueless — that his chief of staff was involved in a cockamamie absentee-ballot scheme during last year’s Democratic Party primary in Congressional District 26, which stretches from the Florida Keys north to Kendall. His chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman) has resigned, and a Miami-Dade state attorney’s office investigation continues. Prosecutors should pursue the truth purposefully and with due diligence. No dilly-dallying. Voters whose choice in 2012 was between two political enemies — Mr. Garcia, the former head of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a Republican who has his own troubles with campaign and tax laws — deserve to know exactly what went down in this race and to hold their elected representative accountable if it is found he played a role in this scheme.

Florida: Congressman Joe Garcia: ‘Flawed’ absentee-voting system, ‘reckless abandon’ in politics contributed to ballot scandal | Miami Herald

Congressman Joe Garcia on Saturday attempted to control the damage inflicted on his office a day earlier, when he dismissed his chief of staff for apparently orchestrating a scheme to submit hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests. Meanwhile, Republicans nationwide and closer to home pummeled Garcia, questioning whether the first-term congressman was coming clean on his campaign’s involvement in the ballot scandal. In a news conference held at his West Miami-Dade office Saturday morning, Garcia, a Democrat, maintained that he had no knowledge of the failed plot during last year’s primary election. He said he learned about his campaign’s involvement only the previous afternoon from chief of staff Jeffrey Garcia, who is unrelated to the congressman and has long served as his top political strategist. “I cannot stress how angry I am at these events,” Joe Garcia said Saturday.

Florida: Campaign vendors say Republican Congressman David Rivera funded Democrat’s failed primary bid | MiamiHerald.com

Fueled with $43,000 in secret money, Republican Rep. David Rivera helped run a shadow campaign that might have broken federal laws in last week’s Democratic primary against his political nemesis Joe Garcia, according to campaign sources and finance records. As part of the effort, a political unknown named Justin Lamar Sternad campaigned against Garcia by running a sophisticated mail campaign that Rivera helped orchestrate and fund, campaign vendors said. Among the revelations: The mailers were often paid in envelopes stuffed with crisp hundred-dollar bills. Rivera and Sternad have denied working together in his campaign, which ended Aug. 14. But Hugh Cochran, president of Campaign Data, told The Herald this week that Rivera contacted him in July and requested he create a list of voters who were ultimately targeted in the 11 mailers sent by Sternad’s campaign. “David hired me to run the data,” said Cochran, who is a retired FBI agent.