Miami-Dade elections

Accused Hialeah ballot broker accepts probation


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Absentee ballot probes

* Deisy Cabrera of Hialeah pleads no contest Tuesday to illegally possessing multiple absentee ballots, agrees to one year of probation after a felony voter fraud charge is dropped.

* Sergio Robaina, uncle of Hialeah’s former mayor, pleads no contest in August to an absentee ballot misdemeanor charge, agreeing to a year of probation. He plans to challenge the constitutionality of the county’s ordinance governing collection of the ballots.

* Two political operatives for Miami Mayor Francis Suarez plead guilty to misdemeanors in August after investigators discover they unlawfully submitted absentee ballot requests online on behalf of voters. Suarez withdraws from the race.

* Investigators in May raid the home of Jeffrey Garcia, the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, for allegedly submitting absentee ballot requests online on behalf of voters. Jeffrey Garcia immediately resigns; Miami-Dade prosecutors are still investigating.

* A Miami-Dade grand jury in December recommends that Florida and Miami-Dade tighten rules for voting by mail and make it easier to vote early in person to prevent absentee ballot fraud.

Deisy Cabrera , a Hialeah ballot broker arrested last year in the first of a string of politically embarrassing voter fraud allegations in Miami-Dade, will not be serving jail time.

The 58-year-old Cabrera on Tuesday pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of illegally possessing multiple absentee ballots. She agreed to serve one year of probation and stay out of local politics during that time.

Prosecutors, in exchange, dropped a felony voter fraud charge.

Her lawyer, Robin Pimentel, in a statement read to the court, said Cabrera never committed voter fraud and was only guilty of trying to help elderly voters cast their ballots.

“Ms. Cabrera truly was the lamb led to the slaughter by the political wolves that wished to distract the media from the true corruption that continues to exist,” said Pimentel, who represented Cabrera along with Eric Castillo.

It’s the second plea deal stuck in the recent crackdown on Miami-Dade County’s controversial cottage industry of absentee ballot brokers, widely known as boleteros .In August, Sergio Robaina, 75, the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, accepted the same terms as Cabrera. He had been accused of possessing multiple absentee ballots and illegally filling out the ballots of two people.

If each stays trouble free, they can finish their probation after six months. Both received a “withhold of adjudication,” which means a conviction will not show up on their criminal history.

The use of absentee ballots, which voters can submit by mail or deliver in person to the elections department, has skyrocketed in Miami-Dade in recent years. But the practice came under increased scrutiny after allegations of fraud and the arrests of Cabrera and Robaina shook the race for county mayor in the fall of 2012.

Robaina’s lawyers plan to ask an appeals court to strike down the Miami-Dade County ordinance governing the collection of absentee ballots.

County commissioners, worried about the perception of election fraud, passed the ordinance two years ago. It states that a person may turn in only two absentee ballots in addition to their own: one belonging to an immediate family member and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement allowing them to deliver it .

In Cabrera’s case, police said she collected at least 31 absentee ballots for a primary election and filled out a ballot for an elderly woman who was unresponsive with a brain tumor in a Miami Springs nursing home.

She was arrested after a private eye, Joe Carrillo, in July 2012 learned that Cabrera was handing out business cards to voters around Hialeah offering to pick up their ballots. Carrillo said he tipped off Miami-Dade police detectives, who then followed Cabrera as she collected ballots from several apartment buildings.

The arrest had wide political ripple effects .

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, who won reelection, recused herself from the prosecution after unsubstantiated allegations that a sub-contractor who had worked for one of her campaign consultants was linked to Cabrera. Gov. Rick Scott appointed the Broward state attorney’s office to handle Cabrera’s case.

The campaign consultant, Al Lorenzo, said the scandal cost him, with media coverage unfairly smearing him. “I worked very hard in my life and people have used that [the Cabrera arrest] to try to destroy my reputation,” Lorenzo said Tuesday, adding that his political consulting business took a major hit after last summer. “I’ve always run clean campaigns and tried to do the right thing, but then I get crucified.”

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was running for re-election, also had to issue denials of any connection to Cabrera after she was spotted by police entering a building housing his Hialeah campaign office.

Then, after the Miami-Dade police public corruption bureau was gutted in July, a retiring detective claimed publically that the downsizing was in retaliation for the Cabrera investigation — an allegation Gimenez has flatly dismissed.

Cabrera’s lawyer, Pimentel, said his client had been unfairly skewered by the media relying on the word of Carrillo, the private investigator.

“With the assistance of this ‘private investigator,’ the Miami Dade public corruption unit mishandled this case from day one,” Pimentel said. “They botched the arrest, mishandled the alleged evidence, and were continuously fed false information from their so-called informant.”

Carrillo insisted that a private activist hired him to ferret out absentee ballot abuse of the elderly, and he denied working for Miami-Dade’s police union, which opposed Gimenez’s election.

Carrillo said Tuesday that authorities have still failed to probe the power brokers behind Cabrera.

“There was never any investigation,” Carrillo said. “Nobody wanted to find out what was behind this because everybody knew that this would lead directly to Mayor [Carlos] Gimenez and our State Attorney, Katherine Fernández Rundle. That is why Deisy Cabrera got the sweet deal she did.”

Broward prosecutor David Schulson did not address any such conspiracy theories in court on Tuesday. He said the felony charged was dropped because the terminally ill elderly woman whose ballot Cabrera was accused of filling out had died last year, hampering prosecution of the case.

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