Deisy Pentón de Cabrera kept meticulous notes on hundreds of voters, several political campaigns between 2008 and 2012 and what appear to be payments of $50 to $1,300 that are not on any candidate’s financial reports.
Detectives confiscated three notebooks in which she wrote this and other information last summer. Finally, nine months after her arrest for alleged ballot fraud in Hialeah, the notebooks have been presented as evidence in the case.
Cabrera, 57, wrote in a shaky hand and used abbreviations that are difficult to decipher. But her notes shed some light on the busy workload of this accused ballot broker, or boletera:
• She had access to more than 550 voters, the vast majority elderly Hispanics who live in Hialeah. The people whose names, address, phone numbers and dates of birth she tracked on lists titled “Deisy’s Voters” include some who have Alzheimer’s and others who are illiterate. Next to some names, Cabrera noted whether they were blind or deaf.
• She registered what appear to be payments for a total of more than $9,000 from seven judicial candidates in 2008.
The financial reports for three of these candidates show that Cabrera was a hired campaign worker, but the payment amounts are half of what Cabrera wrote in her own notes.
• Cabrera didn’t work alone, but was a part of a political apparatus with access to updated absentee voter information from Miami-Dade County’s Election Department. She kept directives written by others to visit particular groups of voters or to take others to early-voting polling places.
She also kept contact information for the campaigns for which she worked, including those of former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and state Sen. Rene García.
Her work began months before Election Day, when she’d help voters fill out requests for absentee ballots. The ballot request forms in her notebook include some filled out by her own hand and others that had been pre-printed with the voter information. They’re dated in April 2011 — seven months before Hialeah’s municipal elections.
Through her attorney, Cabrera declined to respond to a letter with questions about the notebooks that was left on her door by El Nuevo Herald reporters last week.
“My client will never speak with you or to any other reporters,” said attorney Eric Castillo. “Any questions you have should be directed to me and the answer will always be that there is no comment.”
El Nuevo Herald obtained redacted copies of the notebooks earlier this month from the Broward state attorney’s office, which is handling the case.
Authorities charged Cabrera with one felony count of ballot fraud and two misdemeanor counts for allegedly violating a county ordinance that prohibits the collection of absentee ballots. She has entered a not guilty plea.
Friends and acquaintances describe Cabrera as a “poor soul” who lives in a Section 8 apartment and has health problems.
“I always knew her as a lady with poor health who was always helping people,” said Ana Carbonell, the longtime political advisor to Diaz-Balart. “It was heart-wrenching to learn she’d been arrested. I never knew her as a hustler.”
Despite her illness, Cabrera kept working.
She updated her lists of voters with each visit and noted when they had changed address or died. Dozens of voters have told El Nuevo Herald that Cabrera visited them year after year to help them fill out their absentee ballots, although many didn’t know how they ultimately voted.
In her notebooks, Cabrera jotted down when voters had received absentee ballots by mail or if they preferred to vote at the polls. She also documented when others had already picked up the ballots.
For example, alongside one voter’s information, Cabrera wrote in Spanish: “Mama Rene García Recog (sic)”. The Spanish verb “recoger” means to pick up.
René García said that neither he or his mother would comment on the notebooks.
Three lines later, Cabrera noted another voter’s information and the words: “Tio Sergio Robaina Recog (sic)”.
It’s a reference to Sergio “el Tio” Robaina, uncle of Hialeah’s former mayor Julio Robaina. When asked about that particular voter, Sergio Robaina told El Nuevo Herald he had collected her ballots in the past. But he assured that he has never tampered with a ballot or gotten paid to collect them.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” said Robaina, who was arrested on ballot fraud charges eight days after Cabrera’s own Aug. 2 arrest.
Detectives from Miami-Dade Police Department’s Public Corruption Unit first questioned Cabrera on July 25 and found dozens of ballots in her possession. Police had been tipped off to Cabrera’s activities by a private detective, Joe Carrillo.
Her arrest didn’t come for another week, when El Nuevo Herald reported that one of the absentee ballots confiscated by police belonged to 81-year-old Zulema Gomez, who was terminally ill from a brain tumor. Her sister said Gomez was unresponsive and could not have filled out her own ballot.
The arrest tainted the campaigns of two of Miami-Dade County’s most important politicians: State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle and Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Cabrera was a frequent visitor to Gimenez’s Hialeah campaign office. Gimenez and Fernandez Rundle shared a campaign consultant, Quantum Results Inc.
Fernández Rundle recused her office from the case immediately after the arrest, saying that somebody who worked for her own campaign had been seen with Cabrera. Many have speculated it was a reference to a Quantum subcontractor, Jerry Ramos, who has a criminal record for postal fraud.
Cabrera’s notebooks include a mention of “Yery Ramos” and his cellphone number. Ramos declined to comment for this story.
But Al Lorenzo, who owns Quantum, wasn’t surprised that Cabrera had Ramos’ contact information. He explained that Quantum has advised other campaigns for which Cabrera has also worked, including Rudy Garcia’s failed bid for Hialeah mayor in 2011.
Like Carbonell, Lorenzo said that he knew Cabrera as a political activist and not as a boletera. He also said that though Cabrera was often sighted at the Gimenez campaign office, she was not a paid campaign worker.
“She went there because we had free food and maybe because she hoped we’d hire her,” Lorenzo said. “At that time she was already working for other people who supported Carlos [Gimenez] or she was working for other campaigns. Besides, there were other offices of politicians in that same building.”
The building houses a district office for René García, and in 2011 was the campaign headquarters for Hialeah Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz.
In the notebooks, Cabrera had kept the business cards of County Commissioner Esteban Bovo and his former assistant, Anamary Pedrosa. The same night Cabrera was initially questioned by authorities, Pedrosa happened to drop off a bundle of 164 absentee ballots in a post office box.
Cabrera also kept the contact information of other influential figures in Hialeah, including Bovo’s wife, Viviana, who works for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign office.
“Thousands of people must have my wife’s cellular number for multiple reasons,” Bovo said. “She has been a public employee for years.”
In her notebooks, Cabrera wrote what appear to be lists of expenses next to names of restaurants and supermarkets. On an entry dated June 19, 2012, she noted the amount of $96.53 for “Deisy Cabrera.”
On another list, the name “Vivian” appears next to the amount of $50.
Casals-Muñoz did not respond to several messages from El Nuevo Herald.
Hours after authorities first questioned Cabrera last July, three people visited her West Hialeah apartment. One was Casals-Muñoz. Another was Jorge González, a Hialeah businessman who has said they brought her a steak sandwich.
It has never been clear who was the third person — described as a tall, thin man, according to a private detective hired by Carrillo who was watching the apartment that night.
When asked if he had gone to Cabrera’s apartment that night, René García said he could not remember.
“I’m her friend and I’ve had dinner at her house on several occasions,” he said. “But since this all happened, it saddens me to say, but I have distanced a little from her. I don’t remember if I was there that night.”