By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — The scandal sparked by possible fraud with absentee ballots in Miami, revealed only days before the primary elections, has the potential of growing larger and larger each day.
The specter of absentee ballot fraud has opened up a Pandora’s Box in Miami-Dade County, involving two prominent political campaigns, dozens of allegations by both sides and a central question of election integrity.
Who paid the detective to investigate the ballot collectors? Who sent them to collect absentee ballots to low-income housing units? Who benefits from the scandal and why now?
On July 25, police investigators reportedly found Daisy Cabrera and Matilde Martinez in possession of more than a dozen absentee ballots, a misdemeanor crime according to an ordinance adopted by the Miami-Dade County Commission last year.
The women identified themselves as campaign workers for the re-election of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez, according to El Nuevo Herald. The mayor later denied that he or his campaign had any links with women.
“My campaign manager (Al Lorezno) signed a document stating that he did not hire these two women. They were not working for my campaign,” Gimenez told Florida Watchdog.
Before the police became involved, private investigator Joe Carrillo had been collecting information on the women after he received a tip of his own. On July 23, Carrillo gave the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Miami-Dade Police Department a business card, supposedly from Daisy Cabrera, which read “when the ballot (absentee) comes call me, I work every election.”
A week later, the investigator was called to testify by the state attorney. They wanted to know what he knew and who had hired him.
“They asked me for sources. But detectives never expose their sources and I will refuse to do so. I would rather go to prison than divulge that information,” Carrillo told reporters outside the prosecutor’s office on July 31.
Meanwhile, more people who claim to have had contact with the ballot collectors have appeared. Among them is 81-year-old Zulema Gomez, a cancer patient suffering with Alzheimer’s, who reportedly had her signature forged on an absentee ballot, according to the Miami Herald.
After days of speculation, Daisy Cabrera turned herself into police. She faces a felony charge of absentee-ballot fraud and misdemeanor charges related to the absentee ballots. Cabrera was released from custody hours later after posting $6,000 bail.
Florida Watchdog wanted to talk to Cabrera, but she did not respond to calls. Neighbors of Cabrera would not confirm whether they knew her.
Martinez, the other woman reportedly picked up along with Cabrera, did not respond to Florida Watchdog’s request for an interview.
Upon learning of the legal case facing Cabrera, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rudle, who is seeking her own re-election, decided to opt out of a further investigation because of a possible conflict.
“Now that the arrest of Daisy Penton De Cabrera has been achieved and she faces felony charges as well as the related offense of absentee ballot fraud, I have today called on the Governor’s office to manage this case, ” Fernandez Rundle said in a statement sent to reporters.
“Allegations have come to my attention that a person who has been helping my campaign could have been associated with the defendant. Therefore, I am taking this action to avoid any possibility that I will cause any distraction to the prosecution of this case.”
The investigation now focuses on another 200 absentee ballots that were received by the Elections Department on the same day the ballot collectors sent theirs out, as reported by Actualidad 1020AM radio.