The Herald splashed it as a five-column lead across the front page this morning: Top Garcia aide quits over ballot plot.
Here’s what we know so far:
- Cops raided the homes of two Joe Garcia campaign operatives: Giancarlo Sopo, 30, now Joe Garcia’s communications director and John Estes, 26, formerly his campaign manager for the 2012 election. The raids were in search of electronic evidence of fake absentee ballot requests.
- The ‘plot’ consisted of someone sending hundreds of electronic requests for absentee ballots for the 2012 Democratic primary, so-called phantom ballot requests. The bulk of the requests were masked by foreign IP addresses. The Miami Herald found that 2,552 fraudulent requests for the Aug. 14 primaries originated from Internet Protocol addresses in Miami, and got the prosecutors to re-open the case, leading to yesterday’s raids. Incidentally, although today’s Herald article calls the automated e-requests a “sophisticated scheme to manipulate the election” an earlier article by the same reporter stated that “no special skills” were needed. Unfortunately, the first article was right — since the ballots would have gone to the voters’ registered postal addresses, it didn’t take much to fill in the online ballot request forms: “any moderately or even marginally skilled programmer could have done this,” as Patricia Mazzei’s first article reported.
- Regardless, requesting ballots for others in this manner is illegal: only the voter or a family member can request an absentee ballot.
- The Elections Department flagged the requests as suspicious, and didn’t send the ballots, so none of this affected the primary (between Joe Garcia and fraudulent candidate Justin Lamar Sternad), much less the general election.
- According to the Miami Herald, Joe Garcia’s chief of staff, Jeff Garcia (no relation to the Congressman), “took responsibility” (despite not having been the campaign manager for the 2012 campaign) and Joe Garcia asked for his resignation. Thus the headline. Sopo is on administrative leave for now.
- There’s no sign that Congressman Joe Garcia himself knew anything about any of this (although the Herald doesn’t report this fact):
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told The Associated Press that Congressman Garcia is cooperating with her office, and prosecutors don’t believe he knew anything about the fraud.
- Meanwhile, there’s a separate “ongoing investigation targeting multiple individuals involving alleged absentee ballot fraud” (per NBC Miami) — but that investigation does not involve Joe Garcia, either. That, I take it, is about the really serious stuff, where people collected actual ballots from the old and infirm, and filled them out and/or mailed them in batches (both illegal). Indeed, the ‘boletera’ operation has been a staple of the local Republican machine, which worked it hard to defeat Joe Garcia in 2008 and 2010.
- None of this has to do with the even zanier investigation into ex-Congressman David Rivera, complete with a key witness hiding out in Nicaragua.
There are some key details we don’t know:
- Why did the computer-generated ‘phantom ballot requests’ target both registered Democrats and Republicans? Was someone trying to cover tracks? Incompetent? Running a false-flag op? Were the domestic and foreign-origin phantom requests part of the same operation, or different one?
- Was there actually a ‘plot’? Or is this a one-man show?
- What is it that Jeff Garcia (Joe Garcia’s chief of staff) actually did, if anything? Is he just resigning because he should have known, or because he did know (before or after the fact), or because he participated in some way? Based on what we know now, the direct participation seems unlikely as the cops apparently didn’t raid him looking for computer evidence.
- Did the domestic IP numbers lead to either staff member’s home? Both? What, if anything, did the raids find after all this time? Who, if anyone, will be charged?
OBDisclosure: I know all three of the staffers mentioned above. My son volunteered full-time for the Garcia campaign in 2010, although not in 2012 (when this stuff allegedly occurred). He began interning in Garcia’s DC office this week. He knows all three men better than I do and says he was was shocked at the allegation that any of them would be involved.
UPDATE 1: Reports of this morning’s press conference are now online. Biggest new thing I learned from the Herald’s write-up is that Giancarlo Sopo “denied taking part” in the “plot”. As to Jeff Garcia’s role, the Herald, without any quotes, says he was dismissed “for apparently orchestrating a scheme to submit hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests.” Apparently? Did he or didn’t he?
UPDATE 2: Here it comes: Local GOP asking, ‘What did Garcia know and when did he know it’?
UPDATE 3: Political Cortadito weighs in with several theories including this one: “The other possibility is that it was a third party vendor who did it. Sure, [Jeff] Garcia has to take responsibility. He was Joe Garcia’s campaign manager. But this is not like him. This doesn’t sound like his baby. This sounds like something that was offered to him by someone else.”