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Deja vu from 2004 in Hialeah absentee-ballot fraud case

After one of his aides emerged two weeks ago as a key witness in the latest ballot-fraud probe in Hialeah, Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo said he was “deeply disturbed” that his office was “mentioned in the same breath of an absentee ballot investigation.”

But it’s not the first time that a vote-fraud investigation has led to Bovo’s doorstep.

In 2004, in another ballot-fraud probe, detectives focused on a suspected boletero, or ballot-broker, who worked as a staffer for Bovo, at the time a Hialeah city councilman, police records show. The boletero, who was never charged, told investigators that he learned the finer points of ballot collecting from Sergio “El Tio” Robaina — who was arrested earlier this month on vote-fraud charges after a witness said he dropped off ballots at Bovo’s office, court records show.

That 2004 probe, which ended with no arrests, was in many ways a mirror image of the current investigation that has led to two arrests and roiled Miami-Dade’s political scene. That investigation eight years ago exposed many of the ballot-collecting practices facing renewed scrutiny today, and touched many of the same political players — including Bovo.

Bovo says he has never asked his campaign workers to collect ballots — not today, and not when he served on the Hialeah City Council. “I have always instructed my campaign staff to follow state, local and federal election laws,” Bovo said in a written statement.

Records show that four suspected ballot brokers have worked on Bovo’s past campaigns — including Deisy Cabrera, the Hialeah woman arrested last month on ballot-fraud charges.

More from Charles Rabin and Scott Hiaasen here.