Hialeah City Council member Vivian Casals-Muñoz revealed Wednesday that she met with Deisy Cabrera the night of July 25, a few hours after Miami-Dade police had detained Cabrera for allegedly carrying an illegal number of absentee ballots.
“I was worried about her — that’s why I went to see her,” Casals-Muñoz told El Nuevo Herald. “I went to ask her if she was all right. She suffers from a nervous disorder and has cancer. I asked her what happened, and she told me that she was carrying 12 ballots and the police told her that it was illegal.”
They met at Cabrera’s apartment in Hialeah.
Cabrera, 56, promoted Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s candidacy in Hialeah. She is one of two people arrested as part of an absentee-ballot fraud investigation.
On Friday, Sergio Robaina, the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, was indicted on two felony counts of electoral fraud and two misdemeanor counts of violating the county ordinance that prohibits possessing more than two absentee ballots of other people.
Casals-Muñoz said she went to Cabrera’s apartment with entrepreneur Jorge González, who in November 2011 actively supported the councilwoman’s reelection campaign and that of former state Sen. Rudy García, who ran unsuccessfully for Hialeah mayor.
Both acknowledged that a third person joined them to visit Cabrera, but they refused to identify the person.
All three were seen but not identified by an investigator working for private detective Joe Carrillo, who in late July delivered evidence to the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Public Corruption Unit of Cabrera’s alleged illegal activities.
The investigator indicated that the three people arrived at Cabrera’s apartment in a Ford pickup truck registered to an enterprise owned by González. The meeting lasted close to an hour and a half.
Casals-Muñoz denied financing or coordinating Cabrera’s legal defense or paying her bail. “I have not made any payment nor coordinated with any lawyer,” Casals-Muñoz said.
Cabrera has been charged with forging the signature on the ballot of Zulema Gómez, an elderly woman with a brain tumor who lives at a Miami Springs nursing home, and two minor counts for violating the county ordinance that prohibits collecting more than two absentee ballots belonging to other people.
Gómez’s ballot included a note, allegedly written by her sister Olga, indicating that Gómez suffered from arthritis and for that reason signed her name with difficulty. Gómez’s sister denies writing that note.
“I have never agreed with having someone sign for another person. That is not right and it is not permitted,” Casals-Muñoz said. “But let’s wait for the ongoing investigation. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
When five undercover police officers detained Cabrera on July 25 a block away from the office of Gimenez’s Hialeah campaign office, Casals-Muñoz said she walked over to the scene, thinking there had been an accident.
“Deisy was on the sidewalk. We thought she had had an accident and we went there to make sure she was all right,” Casals-Muñoz said. “A county detective told me that they were doing an investigation and that I had to leave, that it wasn’t an accident and that everything was all right. So I got in the car and left.”
Casals-Muñoz said Cabrera should not be called a boletera — Spanish for absentee-ballot bundler — when she is actually a “community activist.”
“Deisy has been given that nickname, but I know her as an activist who works not only during campaigns but she helps me the entire year bringing to my attention the concerns of residents,” Casals-Muñoz said.
She said Cabrera was a volunteer for Gimenez’s campaign in Hialeah and that she had never paid her.
“As far as I know, Deisy is not being paid,” Casals-Muñoz said. “I don’t know who pays her and who doesn’t. She has supported me as a volunteer, not as an employee, and we have been on opposite sides in various campaigns. For instance, when Manny Díaz Jr. ran against Perla Tabares for the School Board in 2010, I was supporting Perla and Deisy was with Manny.”
She added that she has not been interviewed by authorities about the case and that she is “in no way” involved in electoral fraud.
“I offered my unconditional help to Gimenez’s campaign, and I support what has been done so far,” Casals-Muñoz said. “I don’t think this has affected the campaign.”