Since the eruption of the electoral fraud volcano last summer, Hialeah ballot broker Deisy Pentón de Cabrera has been depicted by the authorities and the media as Snow White’s Queen Grimhilde transformed into a witch. Her basket hides not only a poisoned apple, but a complete harvest that, with the scandal’s shooting lava, has become rotten applesauce.
She doesn’t deserve to represent that character in the script of Miami-Dade County’s stinking politics. The only similarity to the fable’s antagonist might be her campaign notes, a talking mirror of sorts reflecting the faces of politicians and judges who resemble the stepmother who covets beauty above love.
Like others in the army of ballot brokers or boleteros, Cabrera acted in several elections as a pawn in a complicated chess game where absentee ballots constitute the chessboard.
Above her, there is a king, a queen, two rooks, two bishops and two knights aiming to cheat the opposing candidate. Her job in a plethora of high-visibility campaigns was not an innate altruistic gesture but a service paid for by a corroded political apparatus — with access to updated voter information from Miami-Dade County’s Election Department — that often checkmates our local democracy.
Still, the heaviest burden of the investigation has fallen on the back of the 57-year-old apparently sick woman while candidates in federal, state, county and municipal races who have benefited from her hustling are probably planning to play golf this holiday weekend or have lunch with their families at a posh steakhouse.
Cabrera was charged with ballot fraud and possession of absentee ballots in violation of a county ordinance. Now the time has come to stop using her as a scapegoat. Most worrisome, authorities have failed to show political determination to launch a thorough investigation because many individuals in high-level power spheres are quivering in fear — frightened that the veil of dishonesty might be lifted.
The direct links between the boletera and local politicians have surfaced in three revealing handwritten notebooks where she kept contact information on the campaigns for which she worked, including those of State Sen. René García and former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, according to my El Nuevo Herald colleagues Enrique Flor and Melissa Sánchez.
In a matter of days, both reporters managed to decipher and interpret Cabrera’s calligraphy and abbreviations, a task that should have been done by authorities rather than resting on their laurels.
It’s alarming to discover that some Miami-Dade judicial candidates — two were elected— made payments to Cabrera for her service in the 2008 elections and, to top it all, lied in their campaign reports by substantially reducing the amount or not registering it. These are the professionals who promise to carry the torch of justice. If their ethical behavior and integrity are questionable, what kind of trust can the public place in the judicial system?
Cabrera’s notebooks, where she kept directives written by others, also allow a glimpse at the modus vivendi of the boleteros and hence of the Hialeah political establishment, which created a fraudulent apparatus that many politicians rely on to enjoy the sweet taste of success.
One of the beneficiaries of the Hialeah clique, for example, is State Rep. Manny Díaz Jr. When he ran for the Miami-Dade School Board in 2010 against veteran board member Perla Tabares Hantman, he lost by a wide margin. A year later, he ran for the Legislature, getting the support of popular Hialeah City Council member Vivian Casals-Muñoz, Sen. García and State Rep. Eddy González — all members of the clique. Two boleteros told El Nuevo Herald last year that they collected ballots for Díaz and González at the request of Anamary Pedrosa, a former aide to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo. Pedrosa is involved in the absentee ballot investigation.
The use of this springboard by politicians sometimes can ricochet. In his first campaign for Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Gimenez received support from Hialeah firefighters, who were willing to even run out of water so long as they never had to see their boss, former embattled Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, make it to county government. For his second term, Gimenez resorted to the nobility stratum of Hialeah politicians with the excuse of further forging links between county government and “the City of Progress.”
Now Gimenez can’t erase Cabrera from a photo in which they appear in an embrace. Even so, he has said she did not work for his campaign.
Instead of focusing exclusively on ballot brokers, law enforcement agencies ought to go after the politicians and judges whom they favored, and follow the money. Otherwise, we’ll have to ask: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, in this fraud volcano who is the ugliest of all?”