Two weeks earlier, the investigators raided three places associated with Rep. Garcia’s campaign staff. Garcia promptly fired his top advisor and congressional staff chief, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation), who admitted orchestrating the scheme to submit hundreds of fraudulent absentee ballot requests.
The congressman later put his communications director, Giancarlo Sopo, on unpaid leave. Sopo briefly worked on Suarez’s mayoral campaign earlier this year.
But the commissioner, who’s also friends with Jeffrey Garcia, said the case involving his campaign had nothing to do with the more-organized fraud that occurred from July 7 to July 24, 2012.
During that time, fraudsters electronically submitted thousands of absentee-ballot requests — sometimes on multiple occasions for the same voter.
In all, there were about 2,552 fraudulent anonymous electronic requests for 2,046 voters, primarily in Congressional District 26 and state House districts 103 and 112.
None of the requests resulted in actual ballots sent to voters. The elections department’s computer software flagged the requests as suspect, in part, because many were submitted by the same fraudsters with the same Internet Protocol address.
Though the effort was ultimately unsuccessful, it was a sign to law enforcement that a new high-tech, shady election practice is blending with the ballot brokers of old.
Boleteras have some advantages: They have personal relationships in neighborhoods or senior centers; can secretly help steer voters to favored candidates; and can help deliver the ballot to a post office or elections department.
In the 2012 frauds, professor Smith said, the e- boleteras presumably intended to contact the voters whose ballot requests they submitted electronically.
Tracking the requests by computer, the fraudsters could have contacted the voters after the ballots arrived at their home. They could even have dispatched a boletera to get the voter to cast the ballot.
Boleteras are fading as campaigns rely more on phone banks and computerized ballot requesting and tracking techniques.
There are still a few brokers left. And they’re being prosecuted.
Two were busted before the Aug. 14 primary: Deisy Pentón de Cabrera and Sergio “El Tío” Robaina, so named because he is the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who has pleaded not guilty to federal income-tax evasion charges.
Cabrera was caught with others’ absentee ballots in her possession, police say, after a tip from a private investigator. Detectives hopped on Robaina’s trail after a stack of 164 absentee ballots was discovered in a North Miami-Dade post office.
Those ballots were delivered by a then-aide to Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban “Steve’’ Bovo, Anamary Pedrosa, who told police that Robaina had asked her to deliver the envelopes to the post office.
Robaina has said Pedrosa approached him and said she was helping three Hialeah-area campaigns, including that of Manny Díaz Jr. in House District 103.
Díaz, who ultimately won the primary and became a state representative, has said he and his campaign had no involvement in any crimes.
That House race and District 112 accounted for the fraudulent electronic requests of 1,558 seemingly unaware voters for 10 days during the Aug. 14 Republican primaries.