September 14, 2015

Aide to ex-Rep. Joe Garcia gets house arrest, probation for putting up ringer candidate against David Rivera in 2010


via @jayhweaver

At first, it looked like the former campaign manger for ex-Miami Congressman Joe Garcia was heading to prison for breaking an election law, even after a prosecutor recommended probation as punishment.

“The problem is, this type of crime strikes at the very core of our democracy,” U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez declared on Monday, noting that he found it “infuriating” the way outsiders think of Miami as a “Banana Republic” because of all its fraud and corruption.

But in the end, after telling the defense attorney for Jeffrey Garcia that he was confronting an “uphill road,” Martinez gave the defendant a two-year probationary sentence with eight months of home confinement and a $1,000 fine.

Martinez cited prosecutor Kimberly Selmore’s support for the lenient sentence, along with defense attorney Henry Bell’s arguments that his client cooperated extensively with the FBI investigation, including testifying before the grand jury, and had already been severely punished after losing his solid career as a once-respected political strategist.

“We felt we were on high ground arguing for no jail time,” Bell said after the hearing.

Garcia, convicted of a misdemeanor in a plea deal, faced up to one year in prison for illegally financing the campaign of a ringer tea party candidate whose role in the 2010 congressional election was designed to help the Democratic bid of Garcia's boss, Joe Garcia, against Republican David Rivera.

More here.

Photo credit: Alvaro Mata, pool photo (Miami Herald file)

June 12, 2015

Joe Garcia insists he knew nothing of 2010 ringer candidate

via @jayhweaver

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia is sticking to his longstanding position that he knew nothing about his onetime campaign manager's recruitment of a ringer tea party candidate in a 2010 Miami congressional election   -- despite just-disclosed emails suggesting otherwise.

"I've been clear on this, and the emails are pretty clear," Garcia told the Miami Herald on Friday.

Not exactly. On Thursday, a federal court document was disclosed that suggests Garcia’s former campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, communicated with him by email in February 2010 about his illicit political strategy to recruit a "shadow" candidate to draw votes away from the GOP's David Rivera in the 2010 race.

“If I got a Tea Party candidate in the race, that will improve your odds,” Jeffrey Garcia emailed Joe Garcia, identified as “Candidate A” in the court record.

A week later, Jeffrey Garcia sent Joe Garcia another email entitled: “YOU WILL WIN IF,” followed by a bullet point stating, “Tea Party Candidate (will happen.)”

In April that year, Jeffrey Garcia wrote to the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, stating that “Plan Roli is still moving. I am seeking funding. I have till mid-week next week to execute.”

Continue reading "Joe Garcia insists he knew nothing of 2010 ringer candidate" »

June 11, 2015

Ex-Rep. Joe Garcia may have known about 'shadow' candidate, court record shows

via @jayhweaver

For nearly five years, former Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia has denied that he knew his onetime campaign manager recruited a “shadow” tea party candidate to run in the 2010 congressional election against Garcia’s Republican nemesis, David Rivera.

But a federal court document disclosed Thursday suggests that Garcia’s former campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, communicated with him by email in February 2010 about his illicit campaign strategy.

“If I got a Tea Party candidate in the race, that will improve your odds,” Jeffrey Garcia emailed Joe Garcia, identified as “Candidate A” in the court record.

A week later, Jeffrey Garcia sent Joe Garcia another email entitled: “YOU WILL WIN IF,” followed by a bullet point stating, “Tea Party Candidate (will happen.)”

In April that year, Jeffrey Garcia wrote to the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, stating that “Plan Roli is still moving. I am seeking funding. I have till mid-week next week to execute.”

Joe Garcia, who lost his congressional seat last year, has long denied any involvement in his former campaign manager’s violation of federal election laws. He has not been charged in the FBI-led case brought against Jeffrey Garcia and Arrojo.

“Thank goodness that the emails were finally released,” Joe Garcia's defense attorney, David O. Markus, told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “A review of all of the emails proves that Joe had no knowledge of any illegal activity. As we have said from day 1, Joe has done nothing wrong.” 

More here.

April 24, 2015

Feds charge ex-chief of staff to former Rep. Joe Garcia with secretly financing ringer candidate

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

Federal prosecutors on Friday accused former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia’s ex-chief of staff of secretly financing a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010 to draw votes away from a Republican rival — an illegal scheme that inspired a more serious copycat case two years later.

Jeffrey Garcia was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense. Prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to pose as another challenger to David Rivera.

Arrojo was also charged Friday with the same misdemeanor.

Rivera is suspected of following a similar playbook in 2012 to prop up a Democratic candidate against Joe Garcia. Rivera has not been charged, although two others in that case — the straw candidate and Rivera’s ex-girlfriend — were convicted.

Jeffrey Garcia himself confessed his actions to prosecutors three years after the fact, his attorney said. The charge, filed in U.S. District Court, paves the way for Garcia, 44, to surrender to authorities next week and then plead guilty in the hope of receiving a light sentence. The same outcome is likely for Arrojo, 41.

More here.

February 24, 2015

Joe Garcia gets new gig with Miami Beach merchant and investment bank, talks new U.S.-Cuba policy


Former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has taken on a job as senior vice president of QueensFort Capital, a Miami Beach-based merchant and investment bank.

The ex-congressman told the Miami Herald he will work to expand investment opportunities through federal government's EB-5 visa program, which requires investors to put up big money -- at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high-unemployment areas -- in exchange for a two-year U.S. residency green card for themselves and their immediate family. If the investments succeed and create at least 10 U.S. jobs, investors gain permanent residency plus dividends.

None of the work will involve Cuba, said Garcia, a Cuban American who had been the only South Florida member of Congress advocating for greater engagement with the island before he lost reelection to Republican Carlos Curbelo in November. Still, he was surprised by the extent of President Obama's new Cuba policy, Garcia said Tuesday.

"I think the administration probably went a little bit further that I had assumed it would," he said.

He compared trying to bring about political change in Cuba to changing "a religion, not a policy" ingrained on the island for more than half a century: "The idea that this is going to be easy is nonsense."

"I think this could all be solved if Cuban Americans and Cubans were speaking," he said. "If the Cuba government was wise, it would reach out to leaders and opinion makers in South Florida to create some sort of rapprochement that benefits the U.S. and Cuba."

And if Obama wants a long-term change that outlasts his administration, then his government also has to reach out to Cuban Americans sidelined from the new policy, he added.

As for talk that Garcia might challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez next year, the former congressman brushed off the rumors.

"I am not running for any public office," he said.

January 22, 2015

Headlined by Donna Shalala, Ready For Hillary PAC to raise Miami $ in Bush/Rubio country


Ready4HillIs Miami ready for Hillary Clinton?

The Ready for Hillary PAC is about to find out Feb. 12, when the political committee holds its first major South Florida fundraiser.

It’s headlined by the former Secretary of State’s close friend, outgoing University of Miami President Donna Shalala, the former health secretary under President Clinton.

This is only the beginning of the 2016 fundraising season, so expect more because Miami-Dade has some of the deepest pockets for Florida fundraisers, making it a regular stop on the political money-grubbing circuit.

This fundraiser is set to be held at the home of philanthropist Adrienne Arsht (after whom the county’s performing arts center is named). The host committee includes Hispanic-outreach wiz Freddy Balsera, fundraiser-lawyer Mitchell Berger, former DNC treasurer Bob Farmer, former U.S. Rep. Hon. Joe Garcia, lobbyist Alex Heckler, and former Clinton White House aide and current Arsht Foundation executive Suzanna Valdez.

The Miami fundraiser has an added dose of political interest because it’s being held in the home county of potential Hillary Clinton rivals, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

As the state’s most-populous and most-Hispanic county, Miami-Dade is also one of the most hotly contested, although it has trended more and more Democrat in recent years. Bush is the only Republican in at least 15 years who has one a majority of the vote in Miami-Dade County (53 percent in 2002). Rubio in his 2010 bid for Senate won the county with 43 percent of the vote, but that’s partly because then-U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and then-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Last year as a Democrat, Crist won a greater share of the Miami-Dade vote in his failed bid for governor, 58 percent. But in raw votes (541,000) and in percentage terms (62 percent), President Obama in 2012 firmly established Miami-Dade as a Democratic bulwark.

With margins like that, it’s not easy to see how Bush or Rubio could beat Clinton in their home county. But both speak Spanish, unlike Clinton and unlike 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney lost the county by more votes (208,459) than any other recent Republican candidate. That margin helped cost Romney must-win Florida and, therefore, the White House. Romney's hardline positions on immigration likely helped cost him a significant portion of the Hispanic vote, the state and nation's fastest growing major demographic that promises to be even more influential in 2016.

So it's a good bet that Miami, and perhaps Florida, is far less likely ready for Mitt than Hillary

November 19, 2014

South Florida Dems to Obama: Venezuelans should be part of executive action on immigration


Two South Florida Democratic members of Congress have penned a letter to President Obama asking him to specifically include Venezuelans in his planned executive action on immigration.

U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia of Miami and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, wrote in the letter Tuesday that Obama should provide "administrative relief protections for thousands of Venezuelans who have fled Venezuela and are fearful of returning."

"Political and economic conditions in Venezuela have been declining for years, but now the Venezuelan people are facing a government that would rather repress and demonize its own citizens than engage in dialogue to address the serious problems facing the country," they said.

Any action could apply to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before December 2011, the cutoff date for the Senate immigration-reform bill yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives, the letter says. Or Obama could authorize "delayed enforced departure," a protection similar to the one granted to people with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

"Their inclusion in administrative relief falls in line with the purpose of such action which should be to provide relief from deportation to those who have established lives and families in the U.S. and whose deportations would rip apart communities."

South Florida is home to the largest number of Venezuelans outside of the South American country -- including a large contingent in Wasserman Schultz's hometown, which is known as Westonzuela. Garcia, who lost reelection earlier this month to Republican Carlos Curbelo, has filed legislation to give Venezuelans special immigration status, but it has gone nowhere.

November 05, 2014

FL-26 changes political party hands again

@PatriciaMazzei @cveiga

South Florida’s 26th congressional district lived up to its label as a swing seat Tuesday, changing political party hands for the second time in two years.

Florida lawmakers redrew the boundaries of the state’s southernmost district in 2012 so that it’s almost evenly split among registered Democrats (35 percent), Republicans (33 percent) and independents (32 percent).

Low turnout in Tuesday’s election, particularly among Democrats, benefited Carlos Curbelo, the Republican who ousted Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami. Garcia spent only one term in office, having defeated Republican David Rivera in 2012.

Granted, Garcia was tainted by campaign scandals. So was Rivera. But the back-to-back victories by opposing parties in the district suggest it could remain competitive for years to come.

On Wednesday, Curbelo said he’s not worried that the frequent turnover, depending on the composition of the electorate in a given election, could affect his future chances.

“If I work hard and do a good job for this district, and I represent the community with effectiveness, I think I’ll get another shot at it,” Curbelo said. “It is certainly too early to start thinking about the next election.”

More here.

November 04, 2014

GOP picks up South Florida seat: Carlos Curbelo defeats Miami Rep. Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei @cveiga @dchangmiami

Carlos Curbelo flipped a South Florida congressional seat for the Republican Party on Tuesday, besting Miami Rep. Joe Garcia in a midterm election dominated by the GOP.

Garcia, a freshman Democrat, was undone in part by scandals, much like the Republican he defeated two years ago.

Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County school board member, led from the moment the first election results were posted through the end. He won the 26th congressional district, which spans Westchester to Key West, with 52 percent of the vote to Garcia’s 48 percent.

“Tonight begins the work of giving the people of Florida’s 26th congressional district the honest and effective representation we need,” Curbelo said.

More here.

Miami Rep. Joe Garcia talks policy -- and gives driving directions -- to West Kendall voters


Miami Rep. Joe Garcia spent part of Election Day afternoon giving directions to would-be voters who were confused about where to vote.

They showed up at the West Kendall Regional Library, one of the county's largest precincts in the 2012 presidential election. Earlier this year, the Miami-Dade elections department redrew some precincts -- including those at the West Kendall library -- to make them smaller. The department says it notified those voters. 

But many of them either didn't receive a notification or didn't pay attention, because they kept getting turned away Tuesday by poll workers who printed out slips of paper listing their new, nearby polling places.

That left Garcia, the incumbent Democrat facing a strong challenge from Republican Carlos Curbelo, giving voters directions at the library parking lot.

"When you leave here, you cross the street, and it's right there on the left," he said in Spanish to a voter.

"Oh, so it's not by the Taco Bell," said the man. He identified himself to a reporter as Miguel Palacios, a 65-year-old registered Republican who called the situation frustration.

"This is very bad. I've always voted here. I wasn't notified," he said.

Garcia said about two-thirds of the people who walked into the polling place when he was there after 4 p.m. were sent somewhere else. 

"Do me a favor: Go in there and ask if you're in the right place," he told a woman as she walked in.

Garcia, holding a water bottle, hustled from one end of the parking lot to the other, trying to say hello to the voters who steadily trickled in. One woman and her son asked for a photograph with him. Another asked him about his position on immigration reform (he favors it and sponsored a stalled House bill on it). Another, who said he was a federal worker, asked him about across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration (he voted against).

"I voted for him," said 39-year-old Sandra Moore, a registered Democrat, who praised Garcia's visibility in the 26th congressional district. "He's done a lot that he said he would do. And he's active in the community."