2 aides to mayoral candidate get probation
MIAMI (WSVN) -- Two of Miami-Dade Commissioner Francis Suarez' aides have been given probation for unlawfully submitting absentee-ballot requests on-line on behalf of voters.
The attorneys for Steve Suarez and Juan Baggini entered pleas Friday morning on behalf of their clients for the misdemeanor charges. Both received one-year probation sentences.
The 20 voters that they put in these absentee ballots for are real voters, according to court documents, who wanted these ballots, but the question was whether the process by which these ballots were requested was legal. It was not.
Frank Prieto, the attorney for Steve Suarez, said it comes down to the inexperience of these men. "Steve Suarez is not a political machine," said Prieto. "He's not a political guy. Simply, I think some naivete may have been involved."
Suarez, who happens to be the commissioner's cousin, took the job as campaign manager. Baggini was the campaign's electioneering communication organizer. Both, according to the terms of the probation must no longer work on political campaigns. The one-year probation may be terminated after six months if there are no violations.
However, Prieto noted of his client, "He can still work for the campaign but in a volunteer capacity, which he has been doing all the time."
Baggini's lawyer did not comment. But, in court documents, this marked the first time Baggini was ever involved or worked for a political campaign.
The charges stem from both men requesting the ballots on-line during a campaign event in Brickell at a Cinco De Mayo celebration. Documents show the voters signed for the ballot requests, but the campaign is not legally allowed to put the request on-line on behalf of the voters.
In June, officials raided Baggini's home in Southwest Miami-Dade, confiscating computers and documents.
Suarez released a statement Thursday that read in part: "It is in the best interest of all concerned that the dispute has been resolved. As I stated previously, we have cooperated fully with this investigation from the beginning. To be clear, there was no allegation that either of them committed any fraud or had any intent to violate Florida election law to the extent that technical mistakes were made in the transmission of absentee ballots requests. The campaign has learned from this experience."
The State Attorney's Office ruled early in its investigation that Francis Suarez did nothing wrong.
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