Two men suspected of visiting a Homestead residence last year and filling out four people’s absentee ballots against their wishes were arrested Thursday.
Both men, who worked for then-candidate Mark Bell, were charged with four counts of unlawfully marking or designating a choice on a ballot, a third-degree felony, and one count of possessing more than two ballots at a time, a misdemeanor.
James Brady, 31, and Samuel Jean, 42, turned themselves into Miami-Dade County authorities on Thursday afternoon. Brady resigned from his position as corresponding secretary with the Miami-Dade Republican Party earlier in the day.
“Criminal activities which aim to undermine our voting process should offend every citizen of Dade County,” state attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in a statement announcing the arrests. “The actions of my prosecutors and the Miami-Dade Police Department to effectively charge those who try to steal any citizen’s vote show our deep commitment to clean and honest elections.”
Neither her statement nor an arrest warrant addressed what role, if any, might have been played by Bell, a Republican who lost the nonpartisan mayoral election. He has denied any involvement and reiterated that position Thursday.
“Nobody’s contacted me,” Bell said.
His wife is Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell, who lost reelection in August. Brady ran unsuccessfully in January for a Florida City commission seat.
“Obviously we believe that he’s not guilty and all the facts will come out in the trial,” said Thomas Cobitz, Brady’s defense attorney.
Jean couldn’t be reached. He recently returned to the U.S. from Haiti, according to prosecutors.
The two men became the latest campaign workers caught in absentee-fraud scandals.
Last year, Jeffrey Garcia, the chief of staff to Miami Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, no relation, pleaded guilty to attempted ballot manipulation and served 65 days in jail. Two Hialeah ballot brokers known as boleteros, Deisy Cabrera and Sergio “El Tío” Robaina, were arrested in 2012. They pleaded no contest and were sentenced to probation. No candidates have been accused of wrongdoing.
In Homestead, the voters whose ballots were stolen learned about the arrests Thursday evening from a Miami Herald reporter.
“Oooh, golly,” said Betty Brockington, 55. “I don’t want them to do a lot of years or anything like that — I just want them to learn a lesson. What made me really mad at them is that he lied. He said he hadn’t been on my porch.”
The investigation began after one of Brockington’s nieces, Robkevia Scott, notified the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust that Brady and another man she identified only as “Haitian” showed up at Brockington’s house last October and asked for the family’s absentee ballots.
A few days earlier, the Haitian man had visited inquiring about the ballots, Brockington said last year. She told investigators with the police department’s public corruption unit that the man spoke particularly favorably about Bell — though she wanted to vote for his opponent, Jeff Porter, and for Councilman Jimmie Williams.
Once the ballots arrived, the man and Brady — whom Brockington recognized as a classmate of one of her sons — came together. According to Brockington, they asked for the ballots but the family didn’t watch as the men filled them out. Brockington, husband Willie James Snead and niece Taquesha Robinson signed the ballots without reviewing them.
But when Scott, then 22, was asked to do the same, she refused to sign and snatched her vote back — and realized the men had filled it out precisely for the candidates she opposed in the Nov. 5, 2013, election: Bell and city council hopeful Norman Hodge Jr.
The men left with the three other ballots. Scott called authorities. Investigators seized the three ballots, which had been mailed to the elections department, and opened them. They, too, had cast votes for Bell and Hodge. A palm print on Snead’s ballot was a match for Brady, according to the arrest warrant. An unidentified print was found on Brockington’s ballot.
When Brady spoke to investigators last November, he told a different version of events: that Brockington had thrown the ballots away and retrieved them from the trash when Brady and the Haitian man, Jean, arrived. The ballots were sealed, said Brady, who identified himself as a Bell campaign worker and Hodge volunteer.
Brady told investigators that “He did not know who she voted for, that he never touched Ms. Brockington’s ballots,” the warrant says.
Jean told police a similar, but not identical, version of events a few months later. “Jean stated that neither he nor Brady touched any of Ms. Brockington’s four absentee ballots or ballot envelopes,” the warrant says.
In August of this year, Jean provided his fingerprints to police and asked to know the results of any forensic examination. Investigators matched Jean’s fingerprints to the print found on Brockington’s ballot.
Having learned of the results, Jean again spoke to authorities and said Brockington retrieved the ballots from the trash and opened them. Then he changed some of his previous testimony.
“He might have influenced her vote for Mr. Mark Bell. He might have ‘bubbled’ at least one ballot, maybe two, but not three,” the warrant says. “James Brady was ‘doing the same thing’ referring to ‘bubbling’ an absentee ballot.”
Jean also told investigators he was more inexperienced in politics than Brady.
“It is possible that James Brady took the absentee ballots with him,” the warrant says, citing Jean, “but [he asked] not to quote him.”