There’s something familiar about the latest political scandal to hit Miami.The Miami Herald reported on Monday that Rep. Joe Garcia’s (D-FL) former chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation), is under federal investigation for ties to “a phony Tea Party candidate’s secretly funded mail campaign.” The candidate, Roly Arrojo, ran against Joe Garcia’s rival, former Rep. David Rivera (R-FL), in 2010.
But here’s where things get weird. Last year, Rivera was involved in an almost identical stunt against Garcia.
In August 2012, the Herald broke the story about then-Congressman Rivera’s involvement in “a sophisticated mail campaign” for a phony Democratic candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, who ran against Garcia. That reporting led to a federal investigation and ultimately a guilty plea on three counts of illegal campaign activity from Sternad. But what looked last year like an audacious dirty trick now looks like a counter-attack.
Rivera and Joe Garcia are old rivals. They first faced off in a congressional election in 2010, which Rivera won. Two years later, they faced off again, with Garcia winning the rematch.
The Herald’s story on Monday revealed that Jeffrey Garcia had a hand in Arrojo mailers that attacked Rivera during the 2010 campaign. (Jeffrey Garcia resigned his position as Rep. Garcia’s chief of staff in May amid a separate scandal involving fradulent absentee-ballot requests.) A political consultant who worked for Garcia’s campaign told the Herald that Jeffrey Garcia was behind the mailers.
“Jeff asked me to do a simple print job for him. I wasn’t aware there was any issue with it,” Michael Kaplan, now a consultant for Dynamic Strategies, told the newspaper. “I am helping [the FBI] and provided all the information requested to help the investigation.”
Kaplan and Cliff Warren, the former president of Image Plus, where the mailers were printed, told the Herald that Arrojo put out around 18,000 fliers, which would have cost more than $10,000. But Arrojo never reported the expenditure to the Federal Election Committee, as required by law.
It all sounds eerily similar to the Sternad case. A hotel worker with a history of financial trouble, Sternad ran as an out-of-nowhere 2012 Democratic congressional primary candidate, and initially failed to report tens of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures. The Herald would report that Rivera helped “orchestrate and fund” a sophisticated mailer campaign for Sternad.
In fact, it was Sternad’s lawyer, Rick Yabor, who asked federal prosecutors to investigate Arrojo, by pointing to similarities with his client, according to the Herald.
Rivera has always maintained he had no connection with Sternad. Likewise, Garcia has denied knowing about or participating in the two scandals connected to his former chief of staff. But in Miami, political corruption seems to be going around. Here’s how the Herald summed up where things currently stand:
Miami-Dade’s notoriously dirty politics have been under the microscope as of late, with Sternad’s case, the two Jeffrey Garcia-related investigations, a state investigation of Homestead’s mayor, and federal investigations into the mayors of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater as well as a tax case against former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, whose uncle was busted in an unrelated state absentee-ballot scandal.