North Miami / NMB

Elections

New details emerge in North Miami absentee-ballot requests case

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

Nacivre Charles sat behind the wheel of a black 2008 Toyota Tundra in Miami late last year when police pulled him over. It was no routine traffic stop.

The cops knew Charles, a 56-year-old political operative known as “Charlie,” was driving with a suspended license. Yet that’s not why they had been secretly trailing him.

They were after evidence of attempted elections mischief.

In the SUV, officers found numerous Miami-Dade County absentee-ballot request forms. The same day, investigators raided the private business office of Lucie Tondreau in connection with 60 unlawful absentee-ballot requests submitted online. The recently elected North Miami mayor had paid Charles to be her campaign treasurer.

New details about Charles’ arrest, and how police and prosecutors traced the requests to him and Tondreau, emerged in a search warrant signed in January as part of the ongoing investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. No one has been charged.

The Jan. 23 warrant gave police permission to search Charles’ black UTStarcom cell phone seized in the November arrest.

Tondreau, a Democrat in a nonpartisan post, has denied any wrongdoing. She has said that she would cooperate with authorities.

What she didn’t say: that she tried to quash the search warrant by claiming she was a journalist because she hosts a Creole-language show on Radio Mega, WJCC-AM (1700).

In court filings, Tondreau claims her computer contains material exempt from scrutiny because of Florida’s reporter shield law.

In a motion filed shortly after the police raid, Tondreau also said prosecutors should be not be allowed to view confidential information from clients from her immigration work; she claims to be a paralegal and legal assistant.

The issue has yet to be taken up in court.

“She is proud to involve a wide array of citizens in the election process and has always been attentive to election laws,” said her attorney, Ben Kuehne. “She expects the state’s inquiry to be closed quickly as there was no impropriety in the North Miami election.”

Tondreau became the third local politician in six months to be investigated for allegedly violating a Florida elections law that requires voters or their relatives to ask for absentee ballots.

The first case, triggered by a Miami Herald investigation, resulted in the conviction of Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia’s former chief of staff. The second ended with plea deals for two aides to Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez, a sitting Republican city commissioner in a nonpartisan post who then dropped out of the race.

The Tondreau case began last May, according to last month’s search warrant filed by Miami Beach Detective Ricardo Arias, who works with the state attorney’s office public corruption division.

Miami-Dade’s elections department discovered 60 suspicious absentee-ballot requests submitted from the same Internet Protocol address between April 30 and May 28. On high alert for copycats after the earlier investigations, the department notified law enforcement and never delivered the ballots.

Through a subpoena to Comcast, investigators found the IP address was registered to the North Miami offices of Tondreau and Associates, which were then on Northeast 125th Street but had since moved to West Dixie Highway. The first round of the North Miami mayoral election was held May 14. Tondreau defeated former Mayor Kevin Burns in a June 4 runoff.

Charles’ was Tondreau’s campaign treasurer, according to finance reports that also listed her office as the treasurer’s address. His own corporation at that address, NIC Investments, listed Tondreau — until last August — as its treasurer.

A well-known political operative in North Miami and Little Haiti, Charles would frequent the Creole-language radio airwaves to promote his candidates and offer his cellphone number to listeners so they could call him for absentee-voting assistance.

Beginning July 10, Arias and Miami-Dade Police Detective Joaquin Garcia contacted some of the voters who had purportedly requested the absentee ballots online. One couple said they knew Charles but had asked for the ballots themselves. But another woman said she, her father and her daughter gave their names and dates of birth to Charles to request the ballots.

“She believed that Nacivre Charles worked for the Department of Elections,” the warrant says, noting that the woman did not have a computer and had never seen the online request form herself.

Investigators began surveillance on Tondreau’s office, according to the warrant. “Detectives confirmed that Nacivre Charles and Lucie Tondreau remain in close contact on a daily basis,” it says.

When they stopped Charles for driving with a suspended license, they found the absentee-ballot request forms and took his cellphone. But they weren’t able to go through the phone without additional court approval.

Police are looking for phone contacts or messages that contain voters’ personal information listed on the ballot-request forms, according to the warrant, which says the phone data will also “assist investigators in identifying other suspects who may have conspired with the [Charles].”

Kuehne, who also represents Charles, insists his client has done nothing wrong.

“Charles, as the campaign treasurer, did his able best to comply with Florida election laws and is proud of his involvement in helping elect Mayor Tondreau,” he said.

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