For South Florida Haitians trying to navigate the sometimes-confusing election process, Carline Paul is a stern but encouraging voice who offers guidance over Haitian radio.
Better known as “Teacher Carline,” Paul is paid by Miami-Dade County to explain to Haitian voters how they can cast ballots, either in person or through absentee ballots.
But in the August elections, Paul was also paid by Barbara Watson, a Miami Gardens Democratic state representative, to campaign for her on Haitian radio. Paul was paid $14,000 by the county — and $1,000 by Watson, who defeated former state Rep. John Julien in the District 107 Florida House race.
Paul, an adult-education teacher for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said there was no conflict of interest.
Ethics experts say her two roles as a political consultant and neutral educator are a breach of the public’s trust.
“I certainly sympathize with the county in that the best way to reach the community is to go to the people who are popular in that community. On the other hand, government at any level has to think about if this person is truly neutral,” said Bob Jarvis, an ethics professor at Nova Southeastern University.
A lawsuit prompted by allegations of ballot fraud in the District 107 race has thrown Paul’s name into the middle of a countywide absentee-ballot investigation. Julien, who lost to Watson by 13 votes, claims there was fraud.
Paul “has continued to manipulate the people that she is supposed to be helping. She continues to perpetuate the ignorance of the voting process,” Julien said.
Paul said there is no basis for Julien’s allegations.
“John Julien is a sore loser,” said Paul, 54. “The community did not support him, and neither did I.”
In a court complaint filed on Friday, Julien claims that Paul went to the Claridge House nursing home in North Miami and collected fraudulent absentee ballots from patients who now say they never voted in the primary. Julien indicated that Paul, who has worked on his campaigns in the past, is part of an ongoing investigation by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
“There is an ongoing task force reviewing all matters that are brought to the attention of the state attorney’s office dealing with absentee ballots,” said Ed Griffith, spokesman for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Griffith declined to say whether Paul is part of the investigation.
Watson has denied any involvement in absentee ballot fraud, stating that it was not a major problem in her district.
Vote fraud has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after two Hialeah ballot brokers, Deisy Cabrera and Sergio Robaina, were arrested and charged with absentee-ballot fraud.
Paul is the executive director of Haitian American Youth of Tomorrow, or HAYOT, a nonprofit organization. According to county records, HAYOT received $14,000 from the county in the 2011-12 budget year to teach members of the Haitian community about the voting process. The group is slated to receive the same amount from the county during the upcoming budget year, which begins Oct. 1.
Paul said she did not disclose to the county that she works for political campaigns through her other company, Afrovisions Pr/ Advertising & Educational Consultant Inc.
“I don’t hide what I do. My company is registered,” she said. “The county didn’t ask me to disclose if I did political campaigns.”
The county does not require the disclosure, according to a Miami-Dade spokeswoman.
“When a community-based organization applies for funding from the county, we look at the organization’s mission and the programs and services it provides, among other criteria,” county spokeswoman Suzy Trutie wrote in an email. “We do not ask the organization about the personal or other interests of its staff or leadership.”
Leading up to the August elections, Paul reached out to absentee-ballot holders on Haitian radio.
“When you receive those absentee ballots at home, don’t let anyone take them,” she told listeners in one ad in Creole. “You must consult with someone you trust, or consult Teacher Carline. She’ll help you understand what’s on the ballot in order to vote correctly.”
In another radio spot, she asked: “Will you accept that you need help to vote just as you accepted you needed help to pass the citizenship test?”
Paul said her ads are meant to encourage people to learn about voting from someone they trust because, she says, ballot brokers are known to go into the homes of some of her listeners and take their ballots.
“All I’m doing is informing the community,” she said.
Paul initially said the nonprofit organization and her consulting business have nothing to do with one another.
“I do separate the two. I have my own life, and I have my own beliefs politically,” she said.
But she later acknowledged that she had used her nonprofit in the past to promote Julien’s campaign when he was running for a seat on the North Miami Beach City Council.
She said she even helps out candidates who don’t hire her, sometimes arranging for HAYOT kids to work as volunteers.
A review of the District 107 and 108 absentee ballot lists, which include swaths of Northeast Miami-Dade and Little Haiti, show that Paul’s personal email or her nonprofit’s email address appears eight times next to the names of people who requested absentee ballots.
“Some people came to my office and they needed help because they didn’t have an email address. I let them use mine,” she said.
Paul denies that she has ever filled out an absentee-ballot request form for anyone. But voter Guy Avril said Paul did just that for him.
“I called Teacher Carline and I gave her all of my information to get the form. I didn’t fill it out,” Avril said.
He said that when he receives his absentee ballot for the November election, he intends to go to Paul to have her fill it out.
“I have mine and my wife’s for her to fill. She takes appointments to fill it out,” he said.
Avril, who listens to Paul on Haitian radio, said it is well known in the Haitian community that this is the one of the services she offers.
“It’s what she does,’” he said. “You either go to her house or she goes to your house.”
Miami Herald Staff Writer Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.