MIAMI (CBS4) – Eric Johnson is a 10-year veteran of the Hialeah Fire Department. His career has been focused on responding to life threatening emergencies. But recently, Johnson has been on a different mission: fighting absentee voter fraud.

“Elections are being stolen,” Johnson says. “This is a huge problem that threatens the principles of democracy in the United States of America.”

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Johnson, a fire union vice president, told CBS4 News anchor Eliott Rodriguez that for years he witnessed voter fraud targeting the elderly in Hialeah. Fed up with what was happening and getting no results from authorities, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He hired a private investigator to follow a Hialeah woman suspected of absentee ballot fraud.

“She was picking up more than the legal amount of ballots and taking them to the post office and mailing them,” says investigator Joe Carrillo, the private eye hired by Johnson to follow Deisy Cabrera, a Hialeah political activist. Shortly after Carrillo took surveillance photos of Cabrera, she was arrested by Miami-Dade detectives and charged with absentee voter fraud.

Cabrera is suspected of being a “boletera”, a person who makes a living in the absentee ballot business.

“A boletera is a person who is paid by a political candidate to gather the absentee ballot vote,” Johnson says. “A boletera will push and push and push until they get a person to give them their absentee ballot.”

Boleteras usually work for campaign consultants hired by candidates for office. But before they can commit the fraud, they have to get their hands on someone’s absentee ballot. One easy way to do it is to go to the website of the Miami-Dade Elections Department.

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Johnson showed Rodriguez how easy it is to order an absentee ballot for someone else. All you need is the person’s name, address, date of birth and other basic information and a boletera can have the ballot mailed to any address.

“Once the boletera gets her hands on your ballot and it’s in a sealed envelope all you have to do is sign it, so they just say, “I already voted for you just sign here.” Johnson said.

After Deisy Cabrera was arrested, police charged Sergio Robaina with absentee ballot fraud. He’s the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. Investigators also questioned Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo after 164 absentee ballots were collected by an aide in his office.  Bovo has said he knew nothing about the ballots.

After years of complaining about absentee voter fraud, Johnson and Carrillo are pleased investigators have made some arrests, but they feel we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

“Could you imagine if there were 100 Joe Carrillo’s out there what we would find?” Carrillo asked. “This was just me and Eric.”

Johnson says he’s simply a concerned citizen who wants to shine a light on a massive problem.

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“People ask me all the time, ‘why you?’ Johnson says. “And I say, ‘why not me? It’s time to take back our country and if it starts with a firefighter, a teacher, a nurse or a caretaker of the elderly, it’s got to start somewhere. It’s time to take back our democracy.”

Eliott Rodriguez