A campaign volunteer and key adviser for Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez oversaw a vote-buying operation in Overtown during last November's mayoral election, witnesses told The Herald and state investigators.
Raymond Molina, a former mayoral candidate who is now a close Suarez adviser, supplied the cash and personally kept watch over the $10-a-vote scheme at St. John Baptist Church last Nov. 12, two witnesses said.
One witness is Jeffrey "Pop" Hoskins, 34, who allegedly recruited homeless and poor voters from the streets of Overtown to vote absentee the day before the runoff. In a sworn statement to state investigators, Hoskins said Molina promised him $500 cash and a city job if he helped round up Suarez votes.
Hoskins was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Friday on felony vote-buying charges. The FDLE is examining Molina's role, prosecutors said. But Molina said he was not at the Overtown church on Nov. 12 and never paid anyone for votes. Molina said he did pay Hoskins $150 out of his own pocket on Nov. 13 -- Election Day -- for putting up Suarez signs and buying food for campaign workers, but that's all.
"It doesn't make any sense to pay anyone. How can you guarantee they're going to vote?" Molina said Friday. "Ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. The Suarez campaign has never had any money to pay anybody."
Suarez adamantly denied that his campaign was involved in buying votes. He said Molina supported his campaign, but was not involved in campaign operations.
"As in other cases and allegations during the last four months, I am absolutely certain that no campaign funds were used for any other purpose other than contemplated in the law, " the mayor wrote in a statement. He declined a request for an interview.
The FDLE began investigating Hoskins after The Herald reported the cash-for-votes scheme Jan. 11. Five witnesses said they saw Hoskins taking down the names of voters who showed up to get rides to an absentee voting station at County Hall, or paying $10 to people after they returned.
Hoskins, in a sworn statement to investigators a month ago, acknowledged that he participated in the operation. He said Molina hired him and supplied the cash, according to sources familiar with his statement.
Hoskins and his lawyer, Jason Grey, declined to comment.
VOTER TELLS STORY
She identifies Molina as supplier of money
One $10 voter also told The Herald she saw Molina in the church's back lot, staying in the background, occasionally handing money to Hoskins. She said Hoskins paid her and told her to vote for Suarez.
When shown a photograph of Molina, voter Sonya Calderon said, "That's him."
"He had a van that said 'Suarez' on it. He was standing by it. . . . It was parked inside the church [property] on the back lot, " she said, adding that she gave the same account to state investigators. "He'd give him [Hoskins] some money to come back with.
"It was all about the money. Ten dollars in 10 minutes, " Calderon said. "Yeah, I took the money. I wasn't going down there for free."
Another $10 voter, Bobby Hobbs, was shown a half-dozen photos by The Herald. He discounted the others and pointed to one of Molina: "He looks something like that." But two other witnesses said they did not see Molina at the church.
Molina told The Herald he met Hoskins through a paid Suarez campaign worker, Andre Marshall, who said Hoskins could help with signs and fliers during the runoff election. He paid them $150 each.