The beginning of the end of Francis Suarezs promising bid to become mayor of Miami started the day his campaign got two attractive young women to work the crowd at a Cinco de Mayo party.
The assignment was not difficult: Get voters to allow the campaign to request absentee ballots for them.
The two friends flirted, downed vodka tonics and got some signatures. But not enough.
So they improvised: They filled out forms for themselves. They called a boyfriend and a sister and forged their names.
And when they ran out of people they knew, they made up names of fake voters.
Which landed them in the middle of a criminal investigation.
We were bored, 21-year-old Ivana Saud told the Miami-Dade state attorneys office.
A novice campaigner, Juan Pablo Baggini, submitted 20 ballot requests the legitimate ones to the county elections website.
Except Florida law prohibits anyone other than a voter or his or her immediate family from filing requests online.
Baggini and his de facto boss the candidates cousin and campaign manager, Esteban Steve Suarez ended up charged and pleaded out to misdemeanors.
They got probation.
The candidate quit the race. He acknowledged, among other reasons, his campaigns mistakes.
A review of investigation records suggests the campaign, though well-financed, relied on neophytes well-intentioned but inexperienced relatives and friends in a big-time election.
Were just a bunch of young guys trying to become the mayor of Miami, a candid Steve Suarez told prosecutors.
It wasnt all amateur hour: Francis Suarez hired seasoned Miami political consultants, a Washington D.C.-based media firm and a Virginia-based pollster. All took part in decisions along the way.
But his family formed his inner circle.
Steve Suarez, working as a volunteer without a formal title, headed the million-dollar campaign. Andrew Suarez, another cousin, helped raise piles of cash. Carolina Suarez, the candidates sister, managed the Cinco de Mayo effort.
Even the candidates dad Xavier Suarez, a Miami-Dade County commissioner got in on the act: He started his own little investigation into the ballots case.
That drew prosecutors attention. They found out he emailed voter Nicole Cueto and wanted to chat.
He asked me if I was one of the 20 people who had filled out that form, and I said yes, Cueto, a former Francis Suarez aide, told prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen. And he basically went off on a tangent and didnt say much about the whole incident.
VanderGiesen pressed for details, apparently trying to decide if Xavier Suarez had tried to influence a witness. But the questioning of Cueto went nowhere. We started talking about my last name and if I was related to certain other Cuetos in Miami, she said.
Xavier Suarez told the Miami Herald he called Cueto to find out if she had willingly filled out the request form.
She confirmed everything, he said. She confirmed that nobody pressured her into anything, that the whole thing was kosher.
Prosecutors cleared Francis Suarez, 35, of wrongdoing. His two aides did not face more serious charges in part because the 20 voters signed off on the requests.
I got into the race for the right reasons, he said in an interview last week. I got out of the race for the right reasons. Im at peace with my decision. Ive learned a lot from it.