West Miami-Dade

New controversy in Sweetwater days before city election

Private investigator Joe Carrillo speaks to the press about his investigation on potential illegal electoral activity in Sweetwater.
Private investigator Joe Carrillo speaks to the press about his investigation on potential illegal electoral activity in Sweetwater. el Nuevo Herald

Joe Carrillo, a private investigator who helped uncover an absentee ballot scandal in Hialeah in 2012, says he is investigating potential illegal electoral activity in Sweetwater.

But he has been thwarted so far because the city has denied him public records he requested, Carrillo said.

“I came here three weeks ago and asked for phone records of three commissioners, Commissioner [Orlando] Lopez, Commissioner [Isolina] Maroño and Commissioner [José] Guerra,” Carrillo said earlier this week during a news conference outside Sweetwater City Hall. “They denied me the records.”

Carrillo’s statements mark the most recent episode in ongoing electoral controversy in Sweetwater. Last week an appeals court upheld the ruling of the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court that disqualified Mayor José M. Diaz from the election, after a lawsuit filed by Lopez, his main opponent.

The decision was based on the premise that Diaz should have resigned from his post as commissioner before qualifying as a candidate for mayor.

Diaz, who was president of the City Commission, took over as interim mayor in 2013 after former Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño was arrested in a corruption case. After Maroño was convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prison, Diaz was sworn in as the mayor.

The Sweetwater election is Tuesday.

In his press conference on Monday, Carrillo did not say what specific evidence he expected to find in the documents he requested, but said he was looking for evidence of illegal election activity such as candidates using absentee ballot bundles to favor particular candidates.

“They gave me two or three bills, which list a name and the amount owed,” Carrillo said. “Phone calls do not lie. They connect people, and that’s what we were looking for here. We were looking for connections with ballot brokers and candidates.”

Carrillo mentioned specifically that he was looking for “connections” with a police officer or former police officer named Ruben Santana in Sweetwater.

“I asked for his file, and they refused me,” Carrillo said.

The Sweetwater Police Department said there was no press spokesperson available, but the person who answered the call from el Nuevo Herald said she would pass the message about Santana to the police press office.

Meanwhile, Marie O. Schmidt, the City Clerk, told el Nuevo Herald that Carrillo was incorrect in saying he was denied documents.

“We gave him what we had in files, to comply with his request,” Schmidt said. “Maybe they were not to his liking.”

Commissioners Guerra and Lopez could not be reached for comment, but Commissioner Maroño talked to reporters outside City Hall just after Carrillo finished his news conference.

“If he had evidence, he would have offered it,” said Maroño. “He didn’t get anything because there isn’t anything. He’s wrong if he thinks we’re hiding something.”

Maroño is the mother of imprisoned mayor Manny Maroño.

Carrillo said that a person hired him to investigate calls from Maroño, Lopez and Guerra — but refused to identify the person.

In 2012, Hialeah activist and union leader Eric Johnson hired Carrillo to investigate the absentee ballot scandal in that city.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy

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