By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — A 75-year-old man charged with voter fraud is proclaiming his innocence, even after the charges were reduced.
Sergio Robaina, better known as “the uncle” for his relation to former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, was charged last year with two felony counts of voter fraud. Wednesday, the charges were reduced to misdemeanors with a year’s probation — six months if he shows good behavior.
Robaina’s lawyers had tried to make unconstitutional an ordinance, approved by the Miami Dade County Commission two years ago, prohibiting a person from possessing more than two absentee ballots. The ordinance took effect during the August 2012 primaries.
“I am innocent. I haven’t done anything wrong,” Robaina told Florida Watchdog in an exclusive interview.
Robaina said he was unaware of the municipal ordinance and that getting people out to vote through absentee ballots or otherwise was rooted in his passion for politics and helping people.
“I’ve done it for years. I visit friends who I know and need help in voting. I have never, never told a person who to vote for nor do I fill out their ballots,” Robaina said.
According to investigators, he coaxed an absentee vote out of a bedridden dementia patient, who died shortly thereafter. “That’s a lie,” said Robaina. “I’ve never told anyone who to vote for.”
He was also accused of collecting hundreds of absentee ballots and giving them to Commissioner Esteban Bovo’s assistant Ana Maria Pedroza, who received immunity for cooperating with the investigation. She said Robaina gave her absentee ballots to take to the post office and mail.
“I think this (the investigation) has been to tarnish my family’s name. It is a political move against my nephew,” he said.
Sergio Robaina was arrested in August of last year as part of an investigation into electoral fraud involving “ballot broker” Daisy Cabrera. It all started when private investigator Joe Carrillo secretly videotaped Cabrera collecting absentee ballots from seniors in a low-income neighborhood in Hialeah. She was later charged with two counts of electoral fraud and with forging the signature of a blind voter. Sentencing is expected in October.
Robaina denied having anything to do with Cabrera.
As previously reported, absentee balloting, or voting-by- mail, was the focus of a grand jury report led by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle after irregularities were found in the area’s 2012 elections. The report highlighted several clear violations and the rise of absentee ballot voting in Miami-Dade County.
“I think if there is voter fraud,” said the 75 year-old mayor Robaina, “what we should do is go back to having two witnesses each time you sign an absentee ballot. When this was done there was no fraud with absentee ballots.”
WATCH THE INTERVIEW WITH SERGIO ROBAINA IN SPANISH.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org twitter @mtoledoreporter