Fraudulent letters aimed at high-profile Republican voters
TALLAHASSEE —The Florida Division of Elections and state law enforcement officials are investigating reports from at least 24 counties — including Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas — that eligible voters have received bogus letters saying they have been flagged as suspected noncitizen voters.
The letters are written to make it look like they came from the recipient's local supervisor of elections office. The envelopes carry a similar notation. But they are not official letters and supervisors are alerting residents of the hoax.
Seemingly aimed at politically active Republicans, it's the latest case involving voter fraud to emerge in Florida and it comes less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
"It makes me angry," said Jeff Guerra, a 43-year-old sales representative from New Port Richey who received a letter Tuesday. "I want this to be an honest election. Something like this is obviously a scam, I'm really taken aback."
Officials know of "dozens" of fraudulent letters but that number could climb in the next few days, said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner. The case has been referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.
"We don't know the intention of the letters," Cate said. "They certainly have the possibility of intimidating voters. ... We're going to make sure the people who did this are brought to justice."
The case could be interpreted as voter intimidation, Cate said, which is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail.
Finding out more about those behind the mailing might be difficult, said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the FDLE, which launched a criminal investigation into the case Tuesday. Two weeks ago, the agency launched another criminal investigation into a case involving fraudulent voter registration applications filed by a private vendor hired by the Republican Party of Florida.
"We'll be reaching out to other states and contacting the letter recipients for the purpose of identifying commonalities," Plessinger said.
The letters arrived in envelopes with a Seattle, Wash., postmark and a date of Oct. 17. They all have the same type of letter head, with the American flag as a backdrop to a silhouette of a bald eagle in the upper left corner. The sender swapped out the name of the supervisor of elections depending on which county they were received.
"I've never seen anybody go this far in trying to fake something from this office," said Linda Tanko, a senior elections supervisor in Orange County. "It's mean-spirited and it's causing confusion at a critical point in the election."
The recipients are similar — most are Republican, vote frequently and contribute to campaigns. Jacksonville City Council President Bill Bishop and former U.S. Ambassador John Rood each got one.