By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — The Miami-Dade Police Benevolence Association hopes a plan to offer $10,000 rewards for tips leading to voter-fraud convictions will put the kibosh on phony absentee ballot schemes that have plagued Miami-Dade’s political races for years.
“We decided to do this because absentee ballot fraud has been in this community for years and nothing has happened,” said Blanca Torrents Greenwood, executive director of the group. “We thought, let’s do this to see if we get results.”
The announcement came a day before the Miami-Dade Elections Department started mass mailings of absentee ballots for the Aug. 26 primary election.
Absentee ballot fraud is a felony in Florida, but in Miami offenders often end up with only probation or little jail time, although violations have proven common in recent years.
In August 2012, private detective Joe Carrillo was hired to tail a 56-year-old Hialeah woman, Daisy Cabrera. She was videotaped visiting the building where Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s Hialeah campaign office was located, then some apartment buildings, then Miami-Dade elections headquarters before finally traveling to the post office, where she allegedly mailed 19 absentee ballots. After the tapes were handed over to authorities, Cabrera was arrested and later received one year probation.
Around the same time, Sergio Robaina, the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, was charged with two felony counts of tampering with ballots. He also got a year of probation.
In 2013, the Miami-Dade Attorney’s Office arrested Jeffrey García, former chief of staff to Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, for requesting hundreds of phony absentee ballots on behalf of voters without their permission. He pleaded guilty, spent 90 days in jail and got 18 months of probation.
During the 2013 mayoral race, investigators linked one of Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez’s political workers with about 20 fraudulent absentee ballots. Suarez later withdrew from the race.
Greenwood said she isn’t sure why voter fraud isn’t taken more seriously by authorities.
“I don’t know if there is problem related with the state attorney’s office, laws (in place), or if it is about evidence, but I know politics has a lot to do with this,” she said.
“In 2012, after Cabrera was arrested and it was discovered she went (to deliver absentee ballots) to Mayor Gimenez’s office, ‘coincidentally’ our anti-corruption office was cut in half,” she said. “They said the FBI is going to investigate, but the FBI does not get involved in local elections.”
Greenwood doesn’t think the penalties are doing anything to deter the problem.
“The only thing they got was a year of probation,” she said. “The problem is still there.”
Earlier this week, an anonymous tipster told Florida Watchdog that two individuals had voted twice in recent elections using two different voter IDs.When queried, the Miami-Dade Election Department said both were clerical errors.
In one case, a citizen registered to vote in both Gainesville and North Miami in 2012, but only voted absentee from the latter address, the elections department said. In Hilaeah, a voter registered twice due to a clerical error, and noticed her name listed twice on the precinct register.
“Our research indicates that neither of these two voters voted twice,” the office said in an email.