Pedrosa isn’t expected to be charged with breaking any laws. But why Bovo’s Hialeah office was used as a collection point is a mystery.
The voter-fraud investigation was made public two weeks ago when police detained and questioned Cabrera, the boletera, after trailing her for two days. She was spotted submitting absentee-ballot request forms at the county elections headquarters in Doral and visiting several Hialeah residences, including a nursing home and assisted-living facilities.
She also entered the building that houses Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s Hialeah reelection campaign office. Gimenez has adamantly denied any connection to Cabrera and had a dozen campaign consultants sign affidavits to that effect.
Following Cabrera’s arrest, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle recused herself from the case, citing a potential conflict of interest after one of her campaign workers was reportedly seen with Cabrera. Sources close to the investigation confirmed Thursday that the campaign worker was Gerardo Judas “Jerry” Ramos, a subcontractor for Fernández Rundle campaign consultant Al Lorenzo.
Fernández Rundle asked Lorenzo on Monday to keep Ramos away from her campaign. Gimenez, who also uses Lorenzo as a consultant, fired Lorenzo and his firm, Quantum Results, the same day after learning that Ramos has a lengthy criminal past — including a 2009 conviction in a federal postage-fraud case linked to Lorenzo’s political clients. Lorenzo has denied hiring Cabrera.
Cabrera had 12 ballots in her possession when police first detained her on July 25. She had mailed 19 more the previous day from the post office at 2200 NW 72nd Ave.
On July 25, at the same post office, Bovo’s aide, Pedrosa, dropped off 164 other ballots that had been left at Bovo’s Hialeah office. None appears to have been collected by Cabrera, sources close to the investigation said.
The 164 ballots, dated from July 12 to July 25, belonged to Hispanic voters mostly in Hialeah, though some were in Hialeah Gardens and Miami Lakes. The majority are elderly.
Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald reporters inspected the sealed ballots Thursday, comparing the voters’ signatures on the absentee-ballot envelopes with those kept on file in the county elections department. Several signatures appeared quite different from those on file, though the majority seemed to match. In more than a few cases, the envelopes appeared to have been filled out in different handwriting — and it at least one case, in a different pen and ink color — than the person who signed.
The ballots remain in their envelopes and will be opened and reviewed by a canvassing board on Election Day on Tuesday.
The stack of 164 envelopes included the ballots of Pedrosa, the commissioner’s aide, and of Milagros Guerrero, 64, who told El Nuevo Herald that she handed in three ballots. She also spoke to police.
On Thursday, Hialeah voter Juan Lopez, 82, said a man came to his house over several elections to collect his and his wife’s ballots. But Lopez said he never knew the man’s name or where he lived. Lopez said police officers visited his house over the past few days asking about the ballots.
Amanda Herbello, 59, and her daughter, Joana, 28, said they gave their ballots to a broker they know as “Beba.” The two women told her they wanted to vote for Gimenez and allowed her to recommend other candidates as they filled out their ballots. Though the women wanted to mail the ballots themselves, they said, Beba told them she would take them with her.
Several voters interviewed by reporters late Thursday insisted they did not hand their ballots to any brokers.
Mercedes De La Vega, 67, of Hialeah, said she mailed the ballot herself — even though authorities believe it was one of the 164 that Bovo’s aide took to the post office. Nobody helped her fill out the ballot, she added, saying she knew of the investigation from listening to the radio.
Another of the 164 voters, 82-year-old Norma Fajardo, said her son-in-law helped her and her husband fill out their ballots, but the son-in-law is not associated with any political campaign. Fajardo and her husband both voted for Gimenez, she said.
Fajardo said she slipped the sealed ballots in the mailbox of her Hialeah apartment complex and didn’t think about them again — until investigators showed up at her door Wednesday afternoon.
“I told them I put the ballots in the mailbox here,” she said. “We didn’t want any trouble.”
Miami Herald staff writers Kathleen McGrory, Charles Rabin and Christina Veiga and El Nuevo Herald staff writers Alfonso Chardy and Enrique Flor contributed to this report.