Congressman Joe Garcia on Saturday attempted to control the damage inflicted on his office a day earlier, when he dismissed his chief of staff for apparently orchestrating a scheme to submit hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests.
In a news conference held at his West Miami-Dade office Saturday morning, Garcia, a Democrat, maintained that he had no knowledge of the failed plot during last year’s primary election. He said he learned about his campaign’s involvement only the previous afternoon from chief of staff Jeffrey Garcia, who is unrelated to the congressman and has long served as his top political strategist.
“I cannot stress how angry I am at these events,” Joe Garcia said Saturday.
He called the plot “ill-conceived” but added: “I think it was a well-intentioned attempt to maximize voter turnout.”
Garcia said he had been on stage early Friday afternoon at John A. Ferguson Senior High School in West Kendall, shaking the hands of hundreds of graduates, when he began to get word that something was amiss.
Earlier Friday, law enforcement officers had raided the family homes of his communications director, Giancarlo Sopo, 30, and his former campaign manager, John Estes, 26, searching for computers and other electronic equipment in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office into the phantom ballot requests.
After the graduation ceremony, Garcia said he met with Jeffrey Garcia, 40, who took responsibility for the scheme. He then resigned at the congressman’s request.
Friday’s precipitous events came three months after a Miami Herald investigation found that hundreds of 2,552 fraudulent online requests for the Aug. 14 primaries originated from mystery hackers using Internet Protocol addresses in Miami. The Herald found those requests were clustered and targeted Democratic voters in Congressional District 26, which stretches from Kendall to Key West and where Garcia was competing against three other candidates.