Ex-congressman’s former chief of staff, suspected ringer candidate plead not guilty to election offenses

Jeffrey Garcia, pictured here when he pleaded guilty in state court in 2013.
Jeffrey Garcia, pictured here when he pleaded guilty in state court in 2013. POOL PHOTO

The former chief of staff for Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia pleaded not guilty Wednesday to secretly giving money to a suspected ringer tea-party candidate in 2010.

Jeffrey Garcia, who surrendered to authorities Wednesday, was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense.

Federal prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to siphon votes away from Republican rival David Rivera, who ended up winning the 2010 congressional election.

Arrojo also surrendered Wednesday and pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor offense as Garcia in Miami federal court.

Garcia, 42, and Arrojo, 41, were released on personal surety bonds. They are eventually expected to change their pleas to guilty in the hope of receiving lenient prison sentences. Garcia himself confessed his actions to prosecutors three years after the fact, according to his defense attorney, Henry Bell.

Garcia has a criminal record from a 2013 state case in which he pleaded guilty to unlawfully submitting online absentee-ballot requests on behalf of voters who hadn’t requested them in the 2012 election. No votes were stolen.

Rivera is suspected of copying the 2010 Garcia playbook to prop up a Democratic candidate in 2012 against Joe Garcia. Rivera has not been charged, though two others in that case have been convicted.