ABSENTEE BALLOT FRAUD

Court records in Hialeah voter-fraud case show more voters received absentee-ballot help

 

At least three voters told investigators that Hialeah ballot-broker Deisy Cabrera, who is charged with forging one voter's ballot signature, suggested candidates or filled out portions of their ballot.

shiaasen@MiamiHerald.com

Ramon Del Pino can’t say for sure whom he voted for last month. And the blind man from Hialeah also can’t identify the two women who came to his home to help him vote.

When interviewed July 31 by police detectives investigating absentee-ballot fraud, Del Pino said he told the women that he wanted to vote for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, but “he allowed the two females to choose the remaining candidates for him.”

Del Pino is among more than a dozen people interviewed by police investigating ballot-broker Deisy Cabrera, who is facing a felony vote fraud charge and two misdemeanor counts of illegal ballot possession. Prosecutors on Wednesday released police reports from interviews with Del Pino and 16 other voters whose ballots Cabrera, a so-called boletera, is accused of collecting before the Aug. 14 primary election.

The most serious charge Cabrera faces is a felony count for allegedly forging the signature of 81-year-old Zulema Gomez, who lies unresponsive from a brain tumor in a Miami Springs nursing home. Cabrera has pleaded not guilty.

At least three other voters told police that Cabrera either suggested candidates or filled out portions of the ballots for them, the newly released records show.

And some voters said they were guided to Cabrera by local politicians.

Eloisa Abreu told police that Cabrera came to help her vote after she called the office of state Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, asking for assistance with her ballot, the records show. Abreu said she voted for her favored candidates in better-known races, but she followed Cabrera’s advice on judicial candidates.

Abreu’s husband, Alejandro, told police that Cabrera “would read out the names on the ballot and he would choose who he wanted to vote for.” The Abreus said they signed and sealed their ballots themselves.

Garcia, a former Hialeah city council member, has hired Cabrera to work on past campaigns, election records show. But Garcia has insisted that he never hired Cabrera to collect ballots from voters.

Del Pino said the two women came to help him vote after he called the office of Lincoln Diaz-Balart; however, Diaz-Balart has not been in Congress for two years.

The records were provided to The Miami Herald by the Broward County state attorney’s office, which took over the Cabrera prosecution after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle stepped aside, citing a potential conflict of interest.

Jerry Ramos, a man who has worked for Fernández Rundle’s longtime campaign consultant Al Lorenzo, had reportedly been seen with Cabrera before the election.

Fernández Rundle’s office is still handling the prosecution of a second ballot-broker, Sergio Robaina, who also faces vote-fraud charges.

Another voter, Lilia Sotolongo, told investigators that Cabrera has helped her vote for the past four years because Sotolongo does not read or write, the police reports show. Sotolongo said she told Cabrera that she wanted to vote for Gimenez and other Republican candidates, but said she also allowed Cabrera to “vote for whomever because they all are no good.”

But later in the interview, a portion of which was recorded, Sotolongo said in Spanish that Cabrera only selected two or three votes on the ballot. A few minutes later, Sotolongo said Cabrera did not fill out any part of the ballot.

“At no point did she insist on anything. I filled everything out,” Sotolongo said.

Some of the voters interviewed by police said they filled out their ballots entirely on their own and sealed them before Cabrera arrived to collect them. And some voters said they did not know Cabrera or failed to recognize her photograph.

Voter Margarita “Cha Cha” Coto told police that Cabrera said she was working for the Gimenez reelection campaign when she came to Coto’s apartment to collect ballots from Coto and her relatives and neighbors.

Gimenez, who won reelection, has repeatedly denied that Cabrera was working for his campaign.

“Maybe she thought she was supporting me, but she was not working for my campaign,” Gimenez said Wednesday.

Read more Political Currents stories from the Miami Herald

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