Hialeah ballot scandal figure: I didn’t know I was breaking the law

Anamary Pedrosa, involved in Hialeah’s absentee-ballot bundling scandal, swore to authorities that she was not aware of the Miami-Dade County ordinance that prohibits the collection of absentee ballots — even though her own boss, County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, cosponsored the measure.

The 25-year-old did admit, however, that she did everything she could to conceal the ballots she systematically collected from well-known ballot-brokers, or boleteros, in Bovo’s Hialeah office -- even carrying the ballots in grocery bags and wrapped in newspapers from the office to the trunk of her car.

Under oath, Pedrosa explained to Miami-Dade public-corruption prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen and detective Joaquín García, from the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Public Corruption Unit, her role in the amassing of 164 absentee ballots in Hialeah. Her statement, obtained by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, shows that authorities did not interrogate the young woman as a suspect in the absentee ballot fraud investigation.

In exchange for her testimony, Pedrosa received immunity from prosecution. But on Aug. 10, the day after she was questioned, authorities arrested one of Hialeah’s most prolific boleteros: Sergio Robaina, the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.

“I don’t know why Anamary snitched on me,” said Robaina, 74, after reading Pedrosa’s testimony last week. “I was stunned. It’s sad and painful.”

Pedrosa’s statement was released week as part of the discovery in the criminal case against Robaina, charged with two felony counts of manipulating absentee ballots and two misdemeanor counts of violating the county ordinance. Pedrosa has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Her attorney, Juan Carlos Planas, refused to speak of the interrogation, at which he was present, and questioned El Nuevo Herald’s motives for reporting on the fraud case so close to Tuesday’s elections.

Pedrosa said Robaina was the first of five boleteros who handed her ballots in Bovo’s office because, she said, they trusted that she would take them to a mailbox.

“Did you feel like you were trying to do the right thing, that you were trying to assist these folks?” asked VanderGiesen.

Pedrosa responded: “I was going the extra, extra mile for them, which I shouldn’t have.”

Robaina and another boletera, Claribel “Beba” Ferrer, have told El Nuevo Herald that Pedrosa was the one who sought their help in collecting absentee ballots. According to them, Pedrosa asked them to collect ballots in favor of three candidates to the Florida Legislature: José Oliva, Manny Díaz Jr. and Eddy González. Oliva and Díaz have refused to respond several messages from El Nuevo Herald. On Friday, González said that Pedrosa did not work for his campaign.

On Thursday, Robaina, who for years has collected absentee ballots for friends and neighbors, said that he wasn’t planning to collect ballots for the August primary elections.

“But one day she came to my house crying, asking me to help her with the ballots,” he said. “I agreed to help her so she could make a few bucks.”

Pedrosa told authorities that no one paid her to collect absentee ballots.

However, Pedrosa and her mother, Ana Valdés, did campaign work for Oliva and Díaz. Pedrosa organized at least two visits for Díaz to apartment buildings for low-income elderly tenants, while Oliva’s campaign paid Valdés $250 for her campaign work.

These were not the only campaigns for which they worked. Public records show that judicial candidates Don Cohn, Michelle Alvarez-Barakat and Tanya Brinkley paid Valdés a total of $5,700 even though it appears Pedrosa did the work. The young woman coordinated campaign events for Cohn, Alvarez-Barakat, Brinkley, as well as for judicial candidate Ivonne Cuesta, in her grandmother’s apartment building.

Robaina insists that Pedrosa and her mother dropped by his house to collect and count the ballots. In her testimony, Pedrosa said that Robaina visited Bovo’s office, where she generally worked alone, to give her ballots. She also insisted that her mother did not know a thing about them.

Pedrosa said that Milagros Guerrero, 64, and Manolo Lago, 80, also delivered absentee ballots to her office. Lago also served as a driver for another boletera, Deisy Cabrera, who was charged this summer with forging a voter’s signature on a ballot. Cabrera has pleaded not guilty.

That case was transferred to the Broward’s State Attorney’s Office for prosecution after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle stepped aside, citing a potential conflict of interest.

In her testimony, Pedrosa said she picked up several ballots from the homes of two boleteras: Ferrer, 71, and Zoa Caridad Bárcena, 74. Ferrer has told El Nuevo Herald that the only reason she gave ballots to Pedrosa was to pay back a favor.

Bárcena is a Hialeah political activist who frequents political events. According to various sources, she collected absentee ballots at the Goodlet Elderly Center, 10 blocks from Bovo’s Hialeah office. Also, like Robaina, Bárcena was a Miami-Dade poll worker.

Bárcena and her husband have repeatedly refused to speak to El Nuevo Herald.

Pedrosa said she went to Bárcena’s house during her free time because she did not want the handling of the ballots to interfere with her work at the office.

“She goes to a senior center two blocks from the office and she goes to visit me,” Pedrosa said. “So she went and she told me what she had and I told her that -- that -- that I couldn’t at the moment because I was full of people; that I would see her later on my break; and then I couldn’t, so I went after hours to her house.”

Pedrosa said a few residents who visited Bovo’s office also handed her their absentee ballots. One of them, José Picos, 75, asked her to help him fill out his ballot.

“He had no clue on who to vote for,” Pedrosa said.

During the questioning, Pedrosa said that boleteros began giving her ballots a few days before she submitted her resignation to Bovo on July 23. At the time she said she wanted to study for the LSAT, the entrance exam for law school. Her last day at work was July 27.

The Hialeah absentee ballot scandal exploded July 25, when authorities detained and questioned Cabrera, who was found with a dozen ballots in hands. Later that day, Pedrosa visited a post office in Hialeah to buy nearly 120 stamps for ballots that lacked stamps.

“I went and I got the stamps and I put them on them and then after I had them all completed, I put it in a mailbox,” Pedrosa told authorities.

It was an act of generosity for Pedrosa, who often complained about her salary and been denied permission by Bovo to work on electoral campaigns.

About 11 p.m. July 25, Pedrosa took 164 absentee ballots — including her own and those of her mother, her grandmother, her boyfriend and her cousin’s husband — to a postal box in northwest Miami-Dade. Authorities began investigating after a post office employee discovered the suspicious batch the next morning.

In her statement to authorities, Pedrosa tried to justify why she took the ballots to the trunk of her car immediately after boleteros came to Bovo’s office. On some ocassions, she said, the boleteros walked them to the trunk of her car; other times she would leave the the boletero alone in the office while she ran to her car with the ballots.

“I didn’t want to leave them in the office,” said Pedrosa, who stressed that Bovo did not know about the ballots. “I didn’t want to bring any problems for the commissioner.”

Then, VanderGiesen asked her why she thought her activities might cause problems for Bovo.

“Because I -- that was -- even though it was just me taking it to the post office and putting the stamp on them, it was still considered politics,” she said.