Like many Hialeah ballot-brokers, 25-year-old Anamary Pedrosa began collecting absentee ballots this summer from those close to her, including her mother and a cousin’s boyfriend.
At the same time, the former aide to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo was establishing herself as a sophisticated campaign worker in a world that is dominated by her elders.
During county work hours, Pedrosa coordinated and attended campaign events for at least one candidate for the state Legislature and four judicial candidates. She told candidates she would introduce them to elderly Hispanic voters, and took them to meet her grandmother’s neighbors in a low-income apartment building in Hialeah Gardens.
Pedrosa, who received immunity from prosecution after giving a sworn statement to authorities, is a key figure in a growing criminal investigation that began in late July after she dropped off a bundle of 164 absentee ballots at a post office. Those who know the young Cuban immigrant do not understand why she was gathering the ballots in Bovo’s office or getting involved with political campaigns.
“It seemed strange to me to see her at political events,” said Reina Guanche, 69, a well-known political activist in Hialeah. “Anamary is this young girl who works in an office helping people. She understands nothing about politics.”
Pedrosa’s name did not appear in any campaign reports. But candidates paid her mother, Ana Valdés, close to $6,000.
Aside from one judge who spoke with El Nuevo Herald in August, no other elected official who benefited from Pedrosa’s services has explained her role in their campaigns, or why they paid her mother for the work.
It is unclear what campaign work, if any, Valdés performed. Her name first appeared in campaign reports in April, when state Rep. José Oliva paid her $250. Oliva has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
In early July, Bovo received a complaint alleging that Pedrosa had offered the services of boleteros, or ballot brokers, to judicial candidates during a Fourth of July event in Hialeah. Bovo, who was vacationing in Spain at the time, has said Pedrosa denied the allegation when they spoke in person in mid-July. In fact, Pedrosa explained that several judicial candidates had asked her to join their campaigns.
Bovo has said he warned Pedrosa that she could not work on political campaigns. But public records and interviews show that she had already been doing so for weeks.
Her own county emails show how, in late June, she was organizing a July 5 campaign stop at a Hialeah public housing apartment building for Manny Díaz Jr., then a candidate for the Legislature.
State Reps. Díaz, Oliva and Eddy González are political allies. Two ballot brokers, including Sergio “el Tío” Robaina, have told El Nuevo Herald that Pedrosa sought their help collecting ballots in support of the three candidates, who won their respective races. Robaina was charged in August with tampering with two of the dozens of absentee ballots he handed to Pedrosa.
During county work hours, Pedrosa took five political candidates to Samari Towers, a low-income apartment building in Hialeah. Her blind 74-year-old grandmother, Mirtha Jiménez, lives there. Jimenez’s ballot wound up in the bundle of 164.
Building officials explained that Pedrosa called in early July to seek permission to hold a campaign meet-and-greet event for Díaz. The day of the visit, Pedrosa accompanied Díaz to the building to meet a dozen voters and hand out orange plastic campaign cups.
El Nuevo Herald has left multiple messages on Díaz’s cellphone and at his home during the past two months. Last week, a woman who identified herself as his mother-in-law said she would deliver the message. The state representative has yet to respond.
Shortly after the visit with Díaz, Pedrosa took judicial candidates Michelle Alvarez-Barakat, Tanya Brinkley and Ivonne Cuesta to the same building. Alvarez-Barakat and Brinkley paid $2,550 and $1,800, respectively, to Valdés for campaign work even though building officials said they did not recall seeing her there. Cuesta’s campaign finance records do not show payments to Valdés.
Alvarez-Barakat, Brinkley and Cuesta declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
Finally, on July 20, Pedrosa took Circuit Judge Don Cohn to meet her grandmother’s neighbors. Cohn, who won his reelection bid, told El Nuevo Herald in August that Pedrosa translated for him at the event because he does not speak Spanish. Cohn paid Valdés — who he said worked with her daughter — $1,350 for organizing that visit and distributing literature for his campaign.
The next week, Pedrosa quit her job with Bovo, just days before the absentee ballot scandal emerged. Her attorney has said she is studying for the LSAT, an exam to enter law school. Pedrosa did not respond to interview requests for this story.
“She’s traumatized,” said Alberto Rodríguez, whose girlfriend is Pedrosa’s cousin.
Rodríguez’s absentee ballot was among the 164 at the center of the criminal probe. He said Pedrosa collected his ballot in July, as she had in May 2011, when Bovo was running for a seat on the County Commission.
Pedrosa began working for Bovo in 2009 while he was a state representative. When he ran for the county seat last year, he paid Pedrosa $2,000 to work on his campaign. It was around that time that Pedrosa asked those close to her to vote absentee.
“I was used to voting on Election Day, at the polls, but Anamary told me I should request an absentee ballot so I could vote at home,” said Rodríguez, 42.
The absentee ballots of Pedrosa, her mother and her boyfriend also were part of the bundle of 164.
After easily winning the county race, Bovo assigned Pedrosa to handle constituent services at a new office in west Hialeah. She mostly served elderly residents who arrived with questions about federal, state and county government aid.
Among her regular visitors were several prominent boleteros and campaign activists, including Robaina. Another was Deisy Cabrera, who has also been charged with electoral fraud.
Pedrosa often worked long hours and didn’t think Bovo appreciated her. She complained to constituents that Bovo would not raise her $36,300 annual salary. According to Rodríguez, Pedrosa lives with and supports her mother, who receives government assistance.
In emails to a work colleague, Pedrosa vented her frustration with work and with her boss.
“He has no clue of what I go thru here everyday neither does he consider it,” she wrote in April. “Today the least that I have had is people crying complaining screaming etc.”