A Hialeah boletera at the center of a weeklong absentee-ballot investigation that muddied the Miami-Dade mayor’s race was arrested Thursday after police say she fraudulently obtained an absentee ballot from a terminally ill woman in a nursing home.
Deisy Penton de Cabrera, 56, was charged with absentee-ballot fraud, a third-degree felony, and two misdemeanor counts of violating a county ordinance that makes it illegal for anyone to possess more than two ballots belonging to other voters. Investigators say Cabrera illegally collected at least 31 absentee ballots for the Aug. 14 primary election.
Hours after her office made the arrest, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, who is seeking reelection, announced she would recuse herself from any further involvement in the case to avoid a potential conflict of interest with an unnamed person who may be linked to both Cabrera and her campaign.
The arrest quelled some of the speculation in the case, which for a week has roiled Hialeah and the races for Miami-Dade’s state attorney and mayor — though for whom Cabrera was working is still unknown.
Accounts from elected officials and others who have known Cabrera for years indicate she is a small-time ballot broker, known in Spanish as a boletera, based in Hialeah and working for one or more candidate or campaign consultants. Though candidates and political committees are required to disclose what they pay consultants, the way consultants then spend the money is not publicly reported.
With Fernández Rundle stepping aside, it will fall to Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the ongoing case. Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said the governor will review Fernández Rundle’s request on Friday and make a decision.
“Unsubstantiated allegations have recently been brought to my attention that a person who has been assisting in my campaign was alleged to have been seen in the company of this defendant,” Fernández Rundle said in a statement, without naming the person. “I am therefore taking this action to avoid even the possibility that my pending election will cause any distraction to the prosecution of this case.”
Cabrera was released from jail Thursday evening after posting a nominal bond.
The investigation against Cabrera began last week, when police followed her over two days. On July 24, according to an arrest affidavit unsealed Thursday, she carried an orange shopping bag to the Miami-Dade elections department in Hialeah and submitted “a small stack of absentee ballot request forms.” Then she dropped off 19 absentee ballots at a Hialeah post office.
The next day, detectives followed Cabrera into a nursing home, where she went into the room of a woman identified by police as Z.G. The officers overheard Cabrera telling Z.G. that she was sent there by the woman’s sister to get her signature. A few minutes later, Cabrera left.
When the detectives went into the room to speak to Z.G., they found she was unresponsive. The detective said hello and waved to Z.G., whose eyes were open, the warrant says, “but she [stared] off into space and did not respond to the greeting.”
Cabrera then visited five more assisted-living facilities before police stopped her and found 12 absentee ballots in her possession. They also detained and questioned Matilde M. Rendueles, the woman driving Cabrera around in a red Toyota Corolla. (Rendueles had earlier been identified in reports as Matilde Martinez.)