Almost unrecognizable in a trim beard, Jeffrey Garcia, the former chief of staff to Congressman Joe Garcia, hugged his relatives, kissed his wife and stepped up to the lectern in a Miami courtroom Monday morning to apologize.
He had directed the Miami Democratic congressman’s political campaign last year to request some 1,800 absentee ballots without voters’ permission, breaking Florida elections laws that require voters or their immediate family to ask for the ballots themselves.
“I should not have done it,” Garcia, 41, told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie. “I’m sorry, and I accept responsibility for my actions.”
Then he pleaded guilty.
A few moments later, three police officers placed him in handcuffs and escorted him to jail. As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, he will serve 90 days behind bars, followed by 18 months’ probation — including the first three months under house arrest, wearing a GPS monitor.
During his probation, Garcia, a professional political operative who is not related to the congressman, will be prohibited from volunteering or working for any campaigns.
His sentencing marks the culmination of an investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, triggered by a Miami Herald report, into thousands of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests that rolled into the county elections department’s website last year, a sign of a worrying trend of campaigns using technology to take advantage of the convenient online system.