August 6, 2012

Miami-Dade mayor severs ties with campaign consultant

After the Miami-Dade state attorney asked a key political consultant to keep a convicted felon out of her campaign Monday evening, Mayor Carlos Gimenez went a step further and fired the consultant.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez abruptly fired a key campaign consultant on Monday after the consultant failed to disclose that one of his contractors is a convicted felon.

Veteran political consultant and lobbyist Al Lorenzo, through his firm, Quantum Results, employed Jerry Ramos as a low-level independent contractor.

Ramos, 47, was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in a 2008 federal case for forging postage stamps. His lengthy state criminal record also includes convictions for credit-card forgery, check forgery and grand theft. He did not return calls from a reporter Monday.

“Neither the state nor the federal charges were disclosed to us by Quantum Results,” Gimenez’s campaign said late Monday in a statement. “Since day one, our Campaign has held itself to a higher standard. Consistent with these standards, we have decided to sever ties with Quantum Results effective immediately.”

Gimenez’s decision came shortly after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle asked Lorenzo to keep Ramos away from her campaign after learning of his criminal past. Lorenzo remains a consultant on Fernández Rundle’s campaign.

Lorenzo, who would only comment via email Monday before Gimenez’s decision, said he was aware of Ramos’ history, but thought he deserved “an opportunity.”

Though Lorenzo was fired for not disclosing Ramos’ past, his name had been weighing politically on Gimenez for more than a week, since a Hialeah absentee-ballot fraud investigation was made public. Lorenzo had been part of Gimenez’s Hialeah operations but avoided calls from reporters regarding the probe.

Last Thursday, Deisy Cabrera, a suspected Hialeah absentee-ballot broker, was arrested and charged with voter fraud, a felony, for allegedly forging the ballot signature of a terminally ill woman in a nursing home. She also faces misdemeanor charges for illegally collecting at least 31 absentee ballots over two days last month.

The same day of the arrest, Fernández Rundle recused herself from the case, citing a potential conflict of interest — widely rumored to be Lorenzo, who until Monday night was also working on Gimenez’s reelection bid. Police officers trailing Cabrera saw her going into the building that houses Gimenez’s Hialeah campaign office.

Gimenez has denied any connection to Cabrera and required a dozen of his campaign consultants — including Lorenzo — to sign sworn statements that they had not hired Cabrera.

“As to the ongoing investigation, I believe I have answered what appears to be the most relevant question at this time: Did I hire Ms. Cabrera — or anyone else — to gather absentee ballots for either the Gimenez or Fernández Rundle campaigns,” Lorenzo said in his email. “The answer is no.”

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Broward State Attorney Michael J. Satz to take over the case, following Fernández Rundle’s recusal.

Fernández Rundle said she stepped aside from the ballot-fraud case following unconfirmed reports that someone hired by a company working on her campaign had been seen with Cabrera. She did not clarify Monday whether that person was Ramos, Lorenzo or someone else.

In a statement issued by her campaign spokesman, Bob Levy, Fernández Rundle said Lorenzo’s firm is one of many companies working for her. Quantum Results is “primarily responsible for the Hispanic outreach and hired a number of employees,” the statement said.

“Recently it came to our attention that one employee, Mr. Jerry Ramos, was prosecuted, convicted and sent to jail by my office a number of years ago,” the statement added. “Once that came to our attention, any connection between the campaign and Mr. Ramos was immediately terminated.”

Lorenzo said Ramos handled administrative activities for Quantum Results and, during campaigns, placed signs, organized logistics for early voting and Election Day, and coordinated candidate visits to senior centers in predominantly Hispanic areas.

“I am and was aware of Mr. Ramos’ past problems, but I wanted to give him an opportunity because I knew his parents, who are now deceased, and [they] had worked for me also,” Lorenzo said.

He and his firm have also been paid by more than a dozen judicial candidates and an aspiring Miami-Dade School Board member this election cycle.

Quantum Results paid for a phone bank at Gimenez’s Hialeah office, according to François Illas, another consultant who was in charge of the office. Illas has his own firm, Metropolitan Strategic Consulting, though he has also worked as an independent contractor for Lorenzo. Illas also works on Fernández Rundle’s campaign.

Illas said he does not organize absentee-ballot programs but instead focuses on media buys, advertising and logistics. He hired six people to run the Hialeah phone bank, he said, adding that Cabrera was not one of them. He added that he does not know Cabrera, nor was he in the office when she apparently dropped by.

“I couldn’t pick her out of a lineup,” he said.

And he reiterated previous statements by Gimenez, who has noted that supporters and volunteers were welcome to visit the office, often to pick up signs.

“People came in and out every day,” Illas said. “We gave them free lunch.”

Miami Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Mary Ellen Klas and El Nuevo Herald writer Enrique Flor contributed to this report.

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