Baggini and Esteban “Steve” Suarez, the campaign’s manager, received probation in August. Francis Suarez, a sitting city commissioner, dropped out of the mayoral race a few days later.
A grand jury convened by State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle revealed in December that the Miami-Dade elections department had flagged thousands of fraudulent online ballot requests — the handiwork of an apparent computer hacker — during last year’s elections.
The Herald’s subsequent analysis found that 2,552 requests had been made over a 2½-week period during the summer. The origins of most of them, which targeted mostly Republican voters in two state House districts, were masked by foreign Internet Protocol addresses.
But 472 of them that targeted mostly Democratic voters in Garcia’s congressional district had come from IP addresses in Miami.
When prosecutors took another stab at the case, they linked those addresses to Estes and Sopo. Sopo’s attorney, Gus Lage, said Sunday that Sopo didn’t personally plug voters’ personal information into the online request forms — though his cousin, sister and friends did, after they learned from Sopo that Jeffrey Garcia was looking for people to do the time-intensive work.
“What happened was Jeffrey Garcia compiled the information which was then delivered to these individuals,” Lage said. “They put it [into the forms] independently.”
Last month, Joe Garcia released the results of an internal review conducted by an attorney and political donor who cleared the congressman’s remaining staff of any involvement in the absentee-ballot requests.
Last week, Republicans pounced on Garcia when a newly released campaign-finance report disclosed that the congressman had paid $25,000 to Jeffrey Garcia’s company, Palm Media, for consulting work. The consulting took place earlier in the year, but Garcia did not send the congressman an invoice until recently. Joe Garcia had already paid Jeffrey Garcia another $25,000 this year as a “bonus” for winning last year’s race.
The two men, graduates of Belen Jesuit High School, have been friends for more than a decade. Jeffrey Garcia, who is married, has been known as a loyal but hard-charging campaigner who earned the trust of his clients but also butted heads with Democratic Party honchos.