A South Florida congressman's chief of staff resigned Friday after being implicated in an alleged voting fraud scheme.
Miami Democrat Joe Garcia said he had asked Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, for his resignation after the man took responsibility for the plot. Several hours earlier, law enforcement investigators raided the homes of Giancarlo Sopo, 30, the congressman's communications director, and John Estes, 26, his 2012 campaign manager.
"I'm shocked and disappointed about this," Garcia told The Miami Herald. "This is something that hit me from left field. Until today, I had no earthly idea this was going on."
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told The Associated Press that Congressman Garcia is cooperating with her office, and prosecutors don't believe he knew anything about the fraud.
Jeffrey Garcia, 40, declined to comment to the Herald. Messages left by the AP for Sopo and Estes were not immediately returned.
Congressman Garcia will hold a press conference on Jeffrey Garcia's dismissal Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at his Miami district office, his district director Raul Martinez Jr. said.
Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffin told NBC 6 there is an ongoing investigation targeting multiple individuals involving alleged absentee ballot fraud. He confirmed that at least three search warrants were served Friday, and said that the investigation does not involve Joe Garcia, who is in his first term in Congress.
The investigation was launched in December 2012 by the Miami-Dade Elections Fraud Task Force after several voter fraud allegations and the recommendation of a grand jury, Griffin said.
Authorities are investigating a sophisticated scheme to manipulate last year's primary elections by submitting hundreds of fraudulent absentee ballot requests. Only voters, their immediate family members or their legal guardians can submit requests for absentee ballots under state election laws. Violations may be considered felony fraud.
None of the requests were filled because the elections department's software flagged them as suspicious. If they had been filled, then campaigns would have been able to direct phone calls, fliers and home visits to the voters to try to win their support. Fraudsters also could have attempted to steal the ballots from unsuspecting voters' mailboxes.
Garcia won the primary and later defeated incumbent Republican David Rivera in the general election. That primary resulted in a separate, federal corruption investigation into whether Rivera had ties to the illegally funded primary campaign of one of Garcia's opponents. Rivera has denied any wrongdoing.