September 12, 2013

DCCC mailers boosted faux Miami Tea Party candidate now under FBI investigation


Roly Arrojo, a phony former Tea Party congressional candidate now under federal investigation, barely received any votes in 2010, but it wasn’t for lack of trying by Democrats quietly propping him up.

A top former advisor of current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia secretly orchestrated an Arrojo mailer during the campaign, a consultant recently told the FBI and Miami Herald. Garcia said he had no knowledge of the potentially unlawful activity to fraudulently disguise campaign spending.

Beyond Garcia’s campaign, Arrojo received even more help from the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which sent two more batches of mailers. Unlike the 18,000 mailers linked to Garcia’s campaign, the DCCC mailers might not have been illegal.

The point of the three mailers – whose combined costs could have exceeded $30,000 -- was clear: siphon votes from Republican David Rivera to help Garcia.

A DCCC spokesman said the organization did nothing improper and broke no laws forbidding coordination between federal campaigns and outside groups.

Arrojo2“We were not involved in the Arrojo campaign in any way,” spokesman David Bergstein said, who wouldn’t elaborate.

The mailers related to Arrojo, who once filed to run for office as a Democrat, all went to Republican voters and portrayed him as a real conservative.

"Roly Arrojo: Is he too conservative?" the mailers asked. Another pointed out that he wanted to "dramatically" reduce federal spending or is a "complete outsider," all in an effort to get conservatives to waste their vote on Arrojo and not support Rivera.

But Rivera won with 52.1 percent of the vote to Garcia’s 42.6 percent. Arrojo gained just 3 percent of the vote, which could equate to about $6.96 spent on his behalf for every vote he gained. Arrojo has refused to comment for years.

Arrojo3In a Garcia-Rivera rematch last year, the congressional lines were redrawn into the new Miami-Key West District 26 and Garcia won by more than 10 percentage points.

Rivera lost amid an investigation linking him to a political newcomer who received more than $81,486 in illegal help and contributions to fund his mailers in the Democratic primary race against Garcia.

That candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in the fraud and is now helping federal prosecutors.

Republicans and Sternad’s lawyer, Rick Yabor, complained that Arrojo might have perpetrated the same scheme two years before.

Unlike Sternad’s campaign, Arrojo reported no expenditures at all, had fewer mailers but was rapped by the Federal Elections Commission for failing to disclose his finances.

After The Miami Herald this year reported that Arrojo’s campaign used the same printing house as Garcia, the FBI checked it out.

The printing company referred the FBI to a Coral Springs consultant, Michael Kaplan, who said he told investigators and The Herald that Joe Garcia’s political advisor, Jeffrey Garcia, had him take care of the mailers.

Jeffrey Garcia, no relation to the congressman, is under a separate and unrelated state investigation concerning fraudulent absentee ballot requests made during the 2012 Democratic primary. When that investigation was announced, the congressman fired the long-time advisor and chief of staff.

Jeffrey Garcia, who will no longer comment, was a friend and former business partner of Arrojo.

Rep. Garcia said he had no idea about either scandal, is cooperating with state prosecutors and will do the same with the FBI.

For former Republican candidate Marili Cancio, who ran unsuccessfully against Rivera in the 2010 primary, the investigation is a longtime coming.

Cancio, in a written statement, criticized the DCCC mailers and the ones linked to Jeffrey Garcia as “unethical and clearly designed to capture conservative votes from the Republican nominee at the time.”

But, she said, the DCCC mailers probably weren’t illegal. But the one linked to the Garcia campaign probably was, she said.

“I have no doubt that Joe Garcia's campaign had knowledge of these shenanigans and I hope Joe Garcia takes responsibility,” she said.


September 09, 2013

Rep. Joe Garcia's former staff chief/adviser under FBI investigation for ties to faux Tea Party candidate


U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia’s former chief of staff and top advisor is under FBI investigation for his ties to a phony Tea Party candidate’s secretly funded mail campaign, the Miami Herald has learned.

Consultant Jeffrey Garcia, no relation to the Miami Democratic congressman, already faces a separate state criminal investigation for allegedly requesting absentee ballots of voters without their permission.

Rep. Garcia has denied participating in or knowing about either scandal. Jeffrey Garcia won’t comment.

In the newly opened federal investigation, a political consultant who worked for Garcia’s campaign told the Herald and the FBI that Jeffrey Garcia was behind then-Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo’s mailers that attacked a rival of Garcia’s, Republican David Rivera, in the 2010 congressional election.

More here

July 23, 2013

Cutler Bay mayor and Joe Garcia challenger wants special prosecutor in absentee-ballot fraud case


Ed MacDougall, the Cutler Bay mayor challenging U.S. Rep., Joe Garcia, wants a special prosecutor to examine an absentee-ballot fraud case tied to the congressman's former campaign team.

MacDougall said in a press release that the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office isn't acting quickly enough in charging three former campaign workers of Garcia's. Investigators in May raided three locations associated with two of the men.

Garcia's former campaign advisor and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation) took a measure of credit for the scheme and was promptly fired.

Continue reading "Cutler Bay mayor and Joe Garcia challenger wants special prosecutor in absentee-ballot fraud case" »

July 03, 2013

Ties to David Rivera hurt Marco Rubio's VP chances, book says


From Collision 2012, the new book by the terrific Dan Balz:

"...Everyone on the short list had issues, pros and cons. Ryan came with all the controversy surounding his budget and its radical changes to Medicare. Pawlenty lacked the charisma that would help to energize conservatives and make them feel better about Romney. Christie, in addition to pay-to-play, had a personality guaranteed to overshadow Romney. Portman had the Washington experience that Romney lacked, but was tied to the Bush presidency. Rubio was talented but untested. But he had another issue. As a Florida legislator he had brushed up against a financial scandal involving the Florida Republican party. In addition, then-representative David Rivera, a close friend and fellow office-holder, was under federal investigation for for campaign irregularities.. There was no evidence of wrongdoing by Rubio, but among at least some Romney advisers there was concern that Rivera would be indicted before the election, and if that were to happen the story would become a major distraction. Myers said, however, that issue did not keep Rubio off the short list of contenders. "Mitt received a number of completed vets, all of which were viable candidacies, and Marco was one of them," she said.

Those advisers wary of Rivera/Rubio were clearly correct. Even without an indictment, the Rivera scandal popping with revelations in the Herald practically every other day would have been an enormous distraction for the Romney campaign.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

June 24, 2013

Federal judge delays sentencing of convicted Miami-Dade candidate linked to David Rivera


Justin Sternad, a convicted Miami-Dade congressional candidate whose Democratic primary campaign was suspected of being run behind the scenes by former Republican Rep. David Rivera, was set to portray himself as a “pawn” of others at his scheduled sentencing Monday for violating campaign finance laws.

But the judge postponed the sentencing until Sept. 23, after asking the government what other cases Sternad is helping them make as part of his cooperation agreement. The prosecutor did not want to publicly disclose that information, so the parties had a private conversation with the judge before she delayed the proceeding. Rivera’s name was not publicly mentioned.

Sternad, the political newcomer who has become a key FBI witness in the federal case against Rivera and his friend, Ana Alliegro, does not implicate the pair in a court filing in which he seeks a probationary sentence for his crime. But his lawyer, in the filing, emphasizes Sternad’s minor role in the suspected campaign plot by Rivera and Alliegro to undermine the Democratic bid of the congressman’s eventual rival, Joe Garcia, who beat Rivera in the 2012 general election.

“Justin Sternad is not a bad guy,” his defense attorney, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, wrote in court papers.

More here.

June 20, 2013

Justin Sternad: Rivera might have been involved in scam, his gal pal duped me


Justin Lamar Sternad, who is to be sentenced Monday in Miami federal court for campaign-finance crimes, said in an interview Wednesday night on America TeVe that he believes former Congressman David Rivera was part of the conspiracy.

Sternad, however, said he had no direct knowledge of Rivera’s role and suggested that the former congressman’s gal pal, Ana Alliegro, had far more to do with the criminal effort to underwrite his campaign.

Neither Rivera nor Alliegro have been charged in connection with the case involving Sternad. Both Rivera and Alliegro have denied wrongdoing.

Sternad said he was “manipulated” by Alliegro and that she promised to find “Democratic donors” to help fund his longshot campaign.

Alliegro referred to the campaign’s secret financiers only as "the mafia," which Sternad said he later guessed was Rivera.

Campaign vendors hired by Sternad told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald last year that both Rivera and Alliegro were involved in Sternad’s race.

Sternad said Alliegro handled the campaign money and vendors, and suggested that she tricked him.

"When we first met she told me there were some Democratic donors who were willing to support me in the campaign, and that she could help me get the contributions," Sternad said. "I was new at this game. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done."

Read more here:

June 12, 2013

Mysteriously financed mailer links shadow candidate to Rep. Joe Garcia camp

@MarcACaputo and @Patricia Mazzei

As rivals call on the FBI to examine a former mystery opponent of Congressman Joe Garcia, the Miami Herald has uncovered a new connection between them: Both used the same print shop for campaign mailers.

But the print shop, Image Plus Graphics, isn’t the only tie between Garcia and Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, whose 2010 campaign violated federal campaign-finance disclosure rules.

Arrojo went to school and did business with Garcia’s top advisor, who was abruptly fired May 31 as the congressman’s chief of staff amid a state investigation into alleged absentee ballot-request fraud.

Arrojo, Garcia, and Garcia’s campaign have denied working in concert two years ago, but the mailers printed by the same vendor have led to new questions about the campaigns.

“I can assure you, we printed that piece and it has our permit number,” Image Plus Graphic’s president, Cliff Warren, told the Herald when shown Arrojo’s mailer.

“But I think it was done on the qt,” Warren said.

Warren said he couldn’t recall who paid for the Arrojo mailers or how many were printed two years ago, but he quickly identified Garcia campaign mailers printed by his shop over the years.

More here

June 06, 2013

GOP poll: Rep. Joe Garcia had trouble in district even before election scandal


Even before an election scandal engulfed his campaign, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia already had a tough re-election campaign ahead of him, according to a poll released Thursday by a Republican group.

A slight plurality of voters in the district, 42 percent, said they'd prefer someone new compared to the 37 percent of those who said Garcia deserves reelection, according to the survey of 450 district voters taken by Harper Polling for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Though taken by a Republican-tied firm, the NRCC poll wasn't all bad news for Garcia. It indicated more people approve of the job he's doing, 38, compared to 35 percent who disapprove.

The tidbits from the NRCC poll -- released with a national memo characterizing Democratic "struggling" from Florida to California" -- was taken in late May.

So the results don't include details, first reported Friday by The Miami Herald, that Garcia's 2012 campaign is being investigated for requesting fraudulent absentee ballots during the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of the alleged scheme.

The NRCC didn't share all of its results and critics are sure to question the poll's provenance and whether any survey questions gave it an anti-Democratic bias (that is, whether it message-tested). The poll does sample a few more Republicans (44%) than Democrats (38%). (Note: the last NRCC poll in this district, taken by another firm, accurately showed Garcia winning before the 2012 election).

Still, Garcia acknowledged the scandal will become a central campaign issue. And his supporters note that he's tough to beat, having raised about $550,000 in his first full quarter of fundraising as a freshman congressman.

Garcia also carried the district by about 11 percentage points in his race against a scandal-plagued Republican Rep. David Rivera. President Obama carried the district by about 7 percentage points. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans, 37-34 percent, making the Key West to Miami-Dade Congressional District 26 one of the most-competitive in the state.

But the poll indicated that 48 percent said they preferred a Republican candidate compared to 40 percent who said they preferred a Democrat

According to the poll, exactly half of the district said they'd prefer a congressman who provides a "Republican check and balance" to 43 percent who said they wanted a "Democratic ally of Obama."

Continue reading "GOP poll: Rep. Joe Garcia had trouble in district even before election scandal" »

June 04, 2013

In Joe Garcia election scandal, lawyer of convicted rival wants FBI investigation of mystery candidate

 @MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei

Hidden money. A shadowy candidate. Missing campaign-finance reports.

That’s not just a description of Justin Lamar Sternad’s crime-filled congressional campaign against U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia in 2012.

It also describes yet another Garcia rival from two years before: Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo.

But unlike Sternad, Arrojo has ties to Garcia’s former top advisor who resigned Friday amid an unrelated criminal investigation into fraudulent absentee ballot requests in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.

Continue reading "In Joe Garcia election scandal, lawyer of convicted rival wants FBI investigation of mystery candidate" »

June 03, 2013

Columnist Fred Grimm: Quarantine elections in Florida's 26th congressional district

From Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm:

We’re calling the game off down in District 26. Suspending the democratic process. Citizens of District 26 will have to get by without a voice in the U.S. House of Representatives until they can come up with congressional candidates not inclined to subvert elections.

Sure, this sounds drastic. But it now looks as if the shenanigans leading up to the Aug. 14 primary were symptoms of a bipartisan epidemic. District 26 needs to be quarantined until political scientists can isolate the contagion infecting the electoral process.

If it wasn’t for attempts to pervert elections, Congressional District 26’s slimiest problem would be snakes of another kind. The district, which includes a big chunk of Everglades National Park, may have more Burmese pythons slithering about than voters. Most of those (voters, not snakes) are clustered in the southern suburbs of Miami-Dade County. The district also includes the Florida Keys, where residents must be perturbed by their association with the mainland’s election scandals.

Until last week, folks in District 26 thought their electoral embarrassments were all due to debauched tactics associated with former U.S. Rep. David Rivera’s failed attempt at reelection. A Herald investigation last year indicated that a Rivera operative secretly financed the campaign of a patsy candidate in the Democratic primary. The phantom candidate’s tactics were supposed to weaken Rivera’s main challenger, Democrat Joe Garcia, before the general election.

More here.