Ex-Miami congressman Garcia’s top aide gets probation, fine for breaking election law

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Jay Weaver   

Published September 16, 2015


At first, it looked like the former campaign manger for ex-Miami Congressman Joe Garcia was heading to prison for breaking an election law, even after a prosecutor recommended probation as punishment.

“The problem is, this type of crime strikes at the very core of our democracy,” U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez declared on Monday, noting that he found it “infuriating” the way outsiders think of Miami as a “Banana Republic” because of all its fraud and corruption.

But in the end, after telling the defense attorney for Jeffrey Garcia that he was confronting an “uphill road,” Martinez gave the defendant a two-year probationary sentence with eight months of home confinement and a $1,000 fine.


Martinez cited prosecutor Kimberly Selmore’s support for the lenient sentence, along with defense attorney Henry Bell’s arguments that his client cooperated extensively with the FBI investigation, including testifying before the grand jury, and had already been severely punished after losing his solid career as a once-respected political strategist.


"We felt we were on high ground arguing for no jail time,” Bell said after the hearing.

Garcia, convicted of a misdemeanor in a plea deal, faced up to one year in prison for illegally financing the campaign of a ringer tea party candidate whose role in the 2010 congressional election was designed to help the Democratic bid of Garcia's boss, Joe Garcia, against Republican David Rivera.  

The 42-year-old Garcia, who served first as Joe Garcia's campaign manager and later as his chief of staff, already had a criminal record: He served 65 days in jail in 2013 after pleading guilty to state charges that he unlawfully submitted online absentee-ballot requests for unsuspecting voters in the 2012 congressional election. No ballots were sent out, so no votes were stolen.


Jeffrey Garcia’s defense attorney is seeking a probationary sentence and a period of home confinent — a request supported by the U.S. attorney’s office because of his cooperation in the investigation, including testifying before a grand jury.

After accepting responsibility in that case, Jeffrey Garcia approached federal authorities to admit his role in the 2010 campaign, Bell said.


In June, Jeffrey Garcia pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to financing the “shadow” tea party candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, in a scheme to siphon votes from Rivera in the 2010 congressional race. Arrojo, 41, a longtime friend of Jeffrey Garcia’s, also pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge. On Monday, Arrojo was sentenced to one year of probation with six months of home confinement with no fine, after his defense attorney, Robert M. Perez, sought even greater leniency.

Jeffrey Garcia and Arrojo were each charged with a misdemeanor of conspiring to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000 to Arrojo’s “straw” tea party campaign. Jeffrey Garcia surreptitiously put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for Arrojo to pose as a GOP challenger to Rivera in the 2010 general election. The legal limit was $2,400.

At their sentencing hearings on Monday, both defendants expressed remorse.

“I’m here today because of my own actions, which were wrong — no excuses,” Jeffrey Garcia told the judge. “I should have known better.”  

Arrojo, who had agreed to run as a tea party candidate because of his friendship with Jeffrey Garcia, said: “I am ashamed and humiliated for an extremely poor decision.”

Arrojo did not wage an actual campaign in the 2010 congressional election, which Joe Garcia — no relation to Jeffrey Garcia — lost to Rivera that November.

Joe Garcia has always claimed he was unaware of his former campaign manager’s illicit strategy to recruit a ringer candidate for that election — despite emails in which Jeffrey Garcia had told his then-boss about the strategy in February of that year.

“If I got a Tea Party candidate in the race, that will improve your odds,” Jeffrey Garcia emailed Joe Garcia, identified as “Candidate A” in a court document filed in June.

In a follow-up email, Jeffrey Garcia wrote: “YOU WILL WIN IF,” followed by a bullet point stating, “Tea Party Candidate [will happen].”

In April 2010, Jeffrey Garcia wrote to the shadow candidate, Arrojo, stating that “Plan Roli is still moving. I am seeking funding. I have till mid-week next week to execute.”

According to the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, the illegal campaign financing began on April 27, 2010, when Jeffrey Garcia wrote two checks — for $5,500 and $5,000 — from the bank account of his consulting firm, Palm Media. He made them payable to "cash."

The next day, Arrojo deposited both checks in his personal bank account. He then cut himself a $10,500 check, payable to “Roly Arrojo for Congress,” from his personal account to his congressional account to pay the $10,440 qualification fee that same day to the Florida Division of Elections.

Jeffrey Garcia then “participated” in creating fliers for Arrojo in October 2010, according to the misdemeanor charge. When the Federal Election Commission started asking questions in November and December of 2010, Garcia "submitted false statements to the FEC concerning his identity and the contributions to the Roly Arrojo for Congress Committee."
The money had come from $12,000 that Jeffrey Garcia, through Palm Media, drew from Joe Garcia's congressional campaign account.

Joe Garcia, identified in the charging document as “Candidate A,” has long denied any involvement in his failed bid for Congress that year. Garcia rebounded and beat Rivera in 2012, but he lost the 2014 congressional election to GOP challenger Carlos Curbelo.

The FBI’s investigation into Joe Garcia’s 2010 campaign was launched after it had opened a probe of Rivera’s campaign following the 2012 congressional election. The Republican was suspected of following a similar playbook to prop up a Democratic straw candidate against Joe Garcia, who beat the GOP incumbent in 2012.


Rivera has not been charged, although two others in that case — the straw candidate and Rivera's ex-girlfriend — were convicted and served short prison sentences.

The scale of the Jeffrey Garcia case pales in comparison to the one surrounding Rivera, the Republican who preceded Joe Garcia in Congress. Rivera's ex-girlfriend, Ana Alliegro, told a grand jury he masterminded a scheme that secretly funneled more than $81,000 to the straw candidacy of Democrat Justin Lamar Sternad in 2012. Rivera covered their tracks and helped Alliegro twice escape to Nicaragua, according to Alliegro.

Alliegro and Sternad did prison time. Rivera has maintained his innocence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill has been weighing for months whether to charge Rivera with federal election violations — a decision that is expected this fall.