MIAMI (CBS4) - The Republican Party pounced Monday on news that confidants and employees of Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia have been implicated in an absentee ballot scheme.
"Joe Garcia's shifty and shady response to this voter fraud scandal is extremely troubling," said Katie Prill, Press Secretary to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Garcia called a morning news conference Saturday, confirming that three of his close advisors have been implicated in an absentee ballot scheme. Garcia has fired Chief of Staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation), and suspended Communications Director Giancarlo Sopo. Garcia's former campaign manager, John Estes is also implicated in the vote fraud, according to CBS4's news partner, The Miami Herald. All three men are under criminal investigation.
The office of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle confirms three search warrants have been served in connection with the probe. Two of the searches were conducted at the homes of Sopo and Estes, according to The Herald.
At the Saturday news conference, Congressman Garcia, said he was "angry" and "disappointed" at the alleged vote shenanigans. He said his right hand man, Jeffrey Garcia, has admitted to being the mastermind.
Under the alleged scheme, Jeffrey Garcia presided over an operation where the campaign requested absentee ballots for hundreds of voters from the Miami-Dade County Elections website. The ballots were allegedly requested to target voters who might be more likely to vote with the convenience of absentee, and more likely to vote for Garcia in the Democratic primary.
The scheme was immediately detected by the elections department after workers noticed that all the requests came from the same couple of computers and common I.P. addresses.
None of the ballot requests were processed, and the elections department notified State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office. Investigators used the I.P. addresses to track the alleged ballot miners.
At his Saturday news conference, Congressman Garcia said the first he knew of the scheme was when his aide, Garcia, told him of it Friday.
"There is zero tolerance for this type of thing," Garcia said.
The congressman may have invited criticism, however, when he attempted to downplay the alleged dishonesty.
"While this was an ill-conceived effort, it was meant to expand voter access," Garcia said.
The GOP lashed out at Garcia's effort to minimize the alleged fraud, and also his suspension of the press aide, Sopo, with pay.
"Does Joe Garcia think his communications director should continue receiving his taxpayer-funded salary, even though his home was raided by police over his involvement in the alleged voter fraud scheme?" the Republican statement asked.
The congressman said his press aide has denied involvement, and that's why he is suspended with pay.
Ironically, Jeffrey Garcia, the supposed brain behind the seemingly bird-brained online ballot scheme touted Democrats' successes in the fall elections using high tech electioneering.
Appearing on the CBS4 broadcast "Facing South Florida With Jim Defede," Garcia said Democratic operatives used "old school and new school technology" in defeating Republican congress members David Rivera and Allen West.
"They found that perfect balance of a lot of voter contact, with using a lot of data and a lot of data mining," the political advisor said.
He may have provided a gold mine of ammunition for opponents to use against the newly minted Democratic congressman from Miami-Dade.
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