The beginning of the end of Francis Suarez’s promising bid to become mayor of Miami started the day his campaign got two attractive young women to work the crowd at a Cinco de Mayo party.
The assignment was not difficult: Get voters to allow the campaign to request absentee ballots for them.
The two friends flirted, downed vodka tonics and got some signatures. But not enough.
So they improvised: They filled out forms for themselves. They called a boyfriend and a sister and forged their names.
And when they ran out of people they knew, they made up names of fake voters.
Which landed them in the middle of a criminal investigation.
“We were bored,” 21-year-old Ivana Saud told the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.
A novice campaigner, Juan Pablo Baggini, submitted 20 ballot requests — the legitimate ones — to the county elections website.
Except Florida law prohibits anyone other than a voter or his or her immediate family from filing requests online.
Baggini and his de facto boss — the candidate’s cousin and campaign manager, Esteban “Steve” Suarez — ended up charged and pleaded out to misdemeanors.
They got probation.
The candidate quit the race. He acknowledged, among other reasons, his campaign’s “mistakes.”
A review of investigation records suggests the campaign, though well-financed, relied on neophytes — well-intentioned but inexperienced relatives and friends — in a big-time election.
“We’re just a bunch of young guys trying to become the mayor of Miami,” a candid Steve Suarez told prosecutors.