Miami congressman’s former aide convicted in absentee-ballot case released from jail

01/03/2014 4:14 PM

01/03/2014 4:57 PM

Jeffrey Garcia received the best of presents this Christmas: getting out of jail.

The former chief of staff to Congressman Joe Garcia, no relation, was released from Miami-Dade County’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on Dec. 25.

It was the 65th day of his 90-day sentence for unlawfully submitting absentee-ballot requests online. He was granted credits under Florida law that shave days off an inmate’s sentence for every month behind bars and for working in the jail, corrections spokeswoman Janelle Hall said.

Garcia, 41, must still serve three months of house arrest. Then the longtime professional political operative faces 15 more months of probation. During that time, he will be barred from volunteering or working for any campaigns.

In October, Garcia pleaded guilty to directing the congressman’s 2012 campaign to submit more than 1,800 absentee-ballot requests online on behalf of unsuspecting voters. State law requires voters or their immediate family members to ask for the ballots themselves.

“He’s accepted responsibility for what he did, and he’s moving on with his life,” Henry Bell, Garcia’s attorney, said Friday in a telephone interview.

Garcia’s guilty plea marked the most high-profile arrest in the case of thousands of phony absentee-ballot requests flagged by the county elections department in 2012. No ballots were mailed.

Prosecutors initially said they could not trace the requests because they were hidden behind foreign Internet Protocol addresses. But a Miami Herald investigation found that hundreds of the requests targeting Democratic voters in the 26th congressional district originated from Miami.

After relaunching its investigation, the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office linked those requests to Joe Garcia campaign staffers and their relatives. The congressman fired Jeffrey Garcia after the chief of staff admitted to his boss that he had orchestrated the scheme. Cases against two lower-level staffers are still pending.

An emotional Garcia apologized in court before his arrest.

While in jail, Garcia became a trustee inmate assigned to perform menial cleaning work.

“That was a humbling experience,” Bell wrote, “and he is glad he is now home.”

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