90-Days In Jail For Rep. Garcia’s Former Chief Of Staff
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The former chief of staff for Congressman Joe Garcia is going to jail for orchestrating a fraudulent, online absentee-ballot request during the 2012 election.
Jeffrey Garcia, 41, no relation to Congressman Garcia, pleaded guilty in court Monday morning to requesting absentee ballots on behalf of voters, which is a felony.
“This is just the final step in the process with the state and doing what Jeff set out to do when this became public and accepted responsibility for what he did,” said Garcia’s attorney Henry Bell.
Garcia will spend 90 days in jail as part of a plea deal he reached with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office. His jail sentence will be followed by 18 months of probation.
While in court, Garcia addressed the court and apologized. He said he never meant any wrong doing and his intentions were to increase voter participation and not interfere with anyone’s ballot.
“When we requested these absentee ballots for voters to be delivered to them without permission we were in violation of the law and should not have done it,” said Garcia. “I am sorry and accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Garcia admitted he had directed the others to submit the online ballot requests.
Garcia was fired in May. The firing came after investigators raided the homes of Giancarlo Sopo, the congressman’s communications director, and the family of John Estes, the congressman’s 2012 campaign manager.
Florida elections law prohibits anyone other than voters or their immediate family members from submitting online ballot requests.
“It sends a message that anybody who is thinking of being vilative of our precious electoral process, if you want to manipulate the vote manipulate t ballots you will be held accountable,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Garcia was held accountable. After his sentencing was read he was fingerprinted he kissed his wife was handcuffed and taken to jail.
Rep. Joe Garcia’s office sent the following statement in response to the plea deal.
“Today is a difficult and sad day. It is painful to watch a friend go through this very difficult ordeal. As we all move past this investigation it must be noted that while these actions were wrong…No ballots were touched or manipulated in anyway and no voter had their votes interfered with or impeded in any way.”
The State Attorney Office told CBS4 News that Congressman Garcia was not aware of what was going and fully cooperated with the investigation.