Absentee ballot investigation

Hialeah ballot broker’s notes list candidates’ names, payments

 

msanchez@ElNuevoHerald.com

Alleged Hialeah ballot broker, or boletera, Deisy Cabrera kept notes on what appear to be payments totaling $10,140 from seven Miami-Dade judgeship candidates who were on the ballot in 2008.

But only three of the candidates reported hiring Cabrera, and the payments they reported are substantially less: $1,650.

In her notes, Cabrera wrote dollar amounts alongside complete names, abbreviations and initials.

These include: “Marcia Caballero,” $1,300 and $400; “Mario García,” $1,200; “Yosie Perez Vil,” $500; “Ricardo Corona,” $1,500; “Migna,” $1,300; “Denise,” $540; and “Est Millan,” $400 and $400.

She also wrote the initials “ST” for $1,300 and “YOP” for another $1,300.

These names and apparent payments are found in the same section of one of the three notebooks that were confiscated from Cabrera when she was first questioned by Miami-Dade police in July. Cabrera has pleaded not guilty to charges of ballot fraud and possession of absentee ballots in violation of a county ordinance.

Through her attorney, Cabrera, 57, declined to explain the notebooks’ contents.

On Sunday, El Nuevo Herald reported that Cabrera had access to more than 550 voters, mostly elderly Hispanics from Hialeah, according to the handwritten lists she updated every election cycle. Dozens of voters have said Cabrera visited every year to help them fill out their ballots, although many had no idea who they voted for.

The names Cabrera wrote in her notebook alongside dollar amounts appear to correspond to Marcia Caballero, Mario García, Josie Pérez Velis, Ricardo Corona, Migna Sánchez-Llorens, Denise Martínez-Scanziani and Stephen Millan, all judicial candidates in 2008.

There is no other evidence of payments in the notebooks, such as signed receipts or check stubs.

Of the group, only Caballero and Sánchez-Llorens were elected. They are now judges in the appellate and criminal divisions, respectively, of Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

According to her campaign reports, Caballero paid Cabrera $800 for helping out at a grassroots event. In her notebook, Cabrera wrote a total of $1,700.

In a brief conversation Friday morning, Caballero told El Nuevo Herald that she had paid Cabrera the amount that is registered in her campaign report, and nothing more. She also said she hired Cabrera to distribute palm cards to voters at Hialeah voting stations.

Sánchez-Llorens reported paying Cabrera $600 for work classified as “GOTV,” which is short for “get out the vote” activities. Cabrera wrote $1,300 in her notebook.

Through courts spokeswoman Eunice Sigler, both judges declined to comment for this story.

“This matter is the subject of an open investigation and a pending criminal case, therefore it would be inappropriate for the judges to comment,” Sigler wrote in an email.

Of the other remaining judicial candidates in Cabrera’s notebooks, only Pérez Velis reported having paid her to perform campaign work. According to public records, Pérez Velis reimbursed Cabrera $250 for food expenses. Cabrera wrote $500.

When El Nuevo Herald asked Pérez Velis about the payments, she said that she didn’t “have time to talk about that right now,” and did not return subsequent telephone messages.

García, Corona and Martínez-Scanziani did not respond to messages left by phone or at their offices.

But Millan said Sunday that he recalled that Cabrera had worked on his campaign but could not explain immediately why her name does not appear in his campaign reports. He said Cabrera was hired to distribute campaign publicity and that her job did not involve absentee ballots.

Garcia’s campaign reports show a $57 payment to a “Daisy Cabrera” who lives at a different Hialeah address than the woman accused of ballot fraud. El Nuevo Herald has been unable to reach the other “Daisy Cabrera.”

Authorities only recently introduced the notebooks as evidence in the case, which is being handled by the Broward State Attorney’s Office.

“Now that we have all of the evidence, we will investigate every possible avenue,” said Adriana Alcalde, an assistant state attorney in Broward’s Public Corruption Unit.

El Nuevo Herald has documented how judicial races are among the most vulnerable to the influence of ballot brokers, known in Spanish as boleteros.

Several judicial candidates who ran in the 2012, including attorney Lourdes Cambó, said they were literally accosted at campaign events by ballot brokers who circled them like vultures, offering ballots in exchange for money.

Boleteros are an insult to our democracy and a danger to our transparent elections process,” said Cambó, who lost her race to incumbent Judge Don Cohn. “In a judicial race, the standards need to be higher.”

At least four judicial candidates who won their races last year benefited from the work of another alleged ballot broker, Anamary Pedrosa, and her mother.

Pedrosa, a former aide to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, gathered at least 164 absentee ballots at Bovo’s office in Hialeah.

On July 25, just hours after Cabrera was initially questioned by police, Pedrosa dropped the bundle of ballots into a mailbox.

Authorities granted immunity from prosecution to Pedrosa in exchange for her cooperation with the investigation. Pedrosa identified other ballot brokers in Hialeah, including the uncle of a former mayor. boleteros

Public records show that judges Cohn, Michelle Alvarez Barakat and Tanya Brinkley paid a total of $5,700 to Pedrosa’s mother for campaign work. However, it was Pedrosa who organized a campaign event for the candidates at a building where her grandmother lived, according to witnesses.

A fourth judge, Ivonne Cuesta, also attended the event but reported no payments to Pedrosa or her mother.

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