Political operative at center of ballot-fraud investigation

11/08/2013 5:40 PM

11/09/2013 4:09 PM

The man at the center of South Florida’s latest absentee-ballot fraud investigation is the go-to operative when local candidates need to sway Haitian-American voters.

Nacivre Charles, better known as “Charlie,” works mostly out of North Miami and Little Haiti and is known for his passionate pitches on Creole-language radio on behalf of his politician clients and for his relentless attacks of their opponents.

On the air, he touts his accessibility, giving out his cell phone number and offering rides to the polls.

Now, the man once relegated to the background as a fervent campaign worker is at the forefront of a fraud investigation that has touched one of his close friends, North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau. Charles was her campaign treasurer when she ran for office earlier this year.

The North Miami office Charles shares with Tondreau was raided a week ago by investigators working with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. That same day, Charles was arrested for driving with a suspended license, triggering an outpouring of support on Haitian radio. It’s unclear if that arrest was related to the search.

Phone calls to Charles’ cell phone seeking comment went directly to a full mailbox. He did not respond to Miami Herald emails.

Prosecutors apparently traced fraudulent ballot requests to a computer at the North Miami office address. The unlawful absentee-ballot requests that Tondreau’s political campaign may have submitted online earlier this year were flagged before they could be mailed out to the unsuspecting voters. A search warrant for computers and other electronic equipment allowed law enforcement to seize any campaign, financial or address-book records related to Tondreau and Charles.

Until now, previous investigations into absentee-ballot fraud had centered on Miami’s Hispanic community, leading, in one case, to jail time for Jeffrey Garcia, former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“I saw this coming. I warned the community it’s not just Cubans,” said Haitian radio personality Rotschill Anderson. “I said this is happening in the Haitian community, wait and see. And now you see.”

Neither Charles nor Tondreau have been charged with a crime.

While he has dabbled in other ventures, Charles is best known for his access to Haitian-American voters, who have historically turned out in large numbers on election day. It’s not uncommon to hear Creole ads on the radio from consultants asking outright for people with absentee ballots to call them if they need help. Anderson said that is code for campaign workers who are seeking to fill out the absentee ballots for unsuspecting older Haitian voters.

Charles, 56, has had a varied career — landscaper, entrepreneur and truck driver. The last job landed him in the middle of a federal sting operation in 1999 at Miami International Airport. Charles was a truck diver for Sky Chefs, a company that provides food for flights. He and 58 other employees were accused of hiding what they thought was cocaine in food carts, garbage bags and carry-on luggage or taking advantage of their easy access to secure areas to transport the drugs off the planes. Charles was indicted on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin and conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin. The charges were later dropped.

He recreated himself into a trusted figure in political circles.

After the raid on his shared office space, supporters took to the airwaves in Creole alleging a conspiracy by unknown individuals to keep him away from his current gig: political consultant the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, who is running for the city commission in Miami’s District 5. Dunn is facing a runoff against former assistant public defender Keon Hardemon on Nov. 19.

Charles and his company, NIC Investment Corporation, collected $10,000 from Dunn’s campaign for “Little Haiti Consulting,” according to the candidate’s campaign finance reports.

Dunn could not be reached for comment.

Florida records show NIC Investment Corporation lists as its address the same one-story beige building that houses Tondreau’s private consulting firm.

Tondreau was listed as treasurer of NIC in the 2012 corporate annual report. In August, her name was removed as treasurer.

The mission of NIC Investment Corporation is unclear. North Miami city records show NIC, along with 10 other companies, was invited to bid on a city landscaping project earlier this year. NIC never responded to the invitation.

Charles, playing up his connection to Haitian voters, built a name for himself in political circuits, earning thousands of dollars during election season. He has worked on the campaigns of North Miami Councilwoman Marie Steril and State Rep. Daphne Campbell.

“It’s good to have him on your side, but if he’s against you, be afraid,” said former North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre, who faced one of Charles’ clients during his first run for mayor. “He’s a great campaigner.”

Pierre said Charles is a friend and a stand-up guy who would never get involved in absentee-ballot fraud.

Tondreau has appeared on several Haitian radio programs since the raid, downplaying the investigation. She told listeners to remain “cool.”

“We don’t have any problems, comrades,” she said.

Anderson, the radio host, who has been critical of Charles and Tondreau, has called for an end to absentee-ballot fraud in the Haitian American community.

“When they do absentee ballot fraud they don’t consider it as robbing people of their vote,” said Anderson. “To them they say they’re helping the community to vote. That is what they claim. They claim Haitians are not educated enough to order their own ballots, to fill them out. They see themselves as the savior of absentee ballots.”

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