Miami Rep. Garcia scrambles after ballot fraud investigation

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An election-fraud scandal has Rep. Joe Garcia scrambling for damage control, but continues to support one of his key staffers.

The Miami Democrat told the Miami Herald that Communications Director Giancarlo Sopo insists he was not part of a scheme to submit falsified requests for absentee ballots for the August 2012 primary.

This comes after investigators from the Miami-Dade state attorney‘s office searched the homes of one of Sopo’s relatives and that of former campaign manager John Estes.

Garcia vows he will not fire Sopo, although he did put him on administrative leave Monday.

“He said he did not do that,” Garcia said, “and I take him at his word,”

“If I find that’s not the case, he’s not going to be put on administrative leave — he’s going to be let go,” Garcia added. “Until that happens, I am neither the prosecutor nor the judge and jury.”

Friday, Garcia did fire chief of staff and longtime advisor Jeffrey Garcia (no relation) after he admitted to his boss he told the campaign to present fraudulent requests.

“I don’t know why,” the congressman added, asserting the absentee ballots weren’t necessary.  “During this entire election, we were polling. … We thought we were ahead early on and from the get-go.”

Ballot requests filled out by someone other than voters, or immediate family, is a third-degree felony fraud under state law. Unauthorized use of the necessary personal information in requests for absentee ballots is considered a first-degree felony.

Today, Miami-Dade commissioners will ask the elections department to improve security of the online system for requesting absentee ballots, but it might have to wait two weeks while the department examines the process and costs.

According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle’s office, there is no evidence Garcia was aware of any absentee ballot fraud.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.