Hidden money. A shadowy candidate. Missing campaign-finance reports.
That’s not just a description of Justin Lamar Sternad’s congressional campaign in 2012, which led to his conviction in federal court.
It also describes the campaign of Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, who like Sternad ran against U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia — but in 2010.
Unlike Sternad, Arrojo has ties to Garcia’s former top adviser, Jeffrey Garcia, who resigned Friday amid an unrelated criminal investigation into fraudulent absentee-ballot requests for the Aug. 14, 2012, Democratic primary.
Like Sternad, Arrojo failed to properly account for more than $10,000 worth of campaign expenditures and at least one mailer.
But Sternad is facing prison time. Arrojo just received a stern letter from the Federal Election Commission for his violations.
Sternad’s lawyer is asking the FBI to investigate — especially now that Garcia’s own campaign is at the center of an elections scandal.
“If my client is going to go through the wringer, let’s apply the law equally,” said Sternad’s lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, who wrote to the FBI on Monday.
“Why does Arrojo get a pass, while my client faces possible prison time?” Yabor asked. “Who’s getting preferential treatment?”
Arrojo would not discuss his former campaign with a Miami Herald reporter.
A self-described stay-at-home dad, Arrojo has owned his Coral Gables home with his wife since 2005, records show. He was also a Republican at the time.
But when Arrojo filed to run for an open congressional seat in 2010 in a crowded field, he first filed papers to run as a Democrat, then registered as a Tea Party candidate with a Miami Beach address.
Republicans at the time suspected that Arrojo, an unknown, was a ringer candidate posing as a conservative in order to siphon votes away from Republican state Rep. David Rivera, who was running against Garcia and others. Rivera won that race handily.
A Miami Herald investigation at the time showed Arrojo had longstanding ties to Garcia’s campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, who is not related to the congressman.
Arrojo and Jeffrey Garcia both went to Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and had owned a failed real-estate investment firm together. Both denied that they had worked together to get Arrojo to run in 2010.
Joe Garcia said he didn’t know Arrojo.
Jeffrey Garcia abruptly resigned as the congressman’s chief of staff on Friday amid an ongoing Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office investigation into about 2,500 absentee ballot requests that were fraudulently submitted in the 2012 race. Monroe County, which is part of Garcia’s district, is now conducting a parallel review.
Jeffrey Garcia has hired attorney Henry Bell, who said it is not clear to him if his client violated the law in the 2012 election. State elections laws require absentee ballots to be submitted by voters or their immediate family members. Violations may be considered third-degree felony fraud. Using a person’s identifying information — as required by ballot requests — may be considered a more serious, first-degree felony.
“That he accepted responsibility and resigned his position with the congressman doesn’t necessarily mean he broke the law,” Bell said.