The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fraud? What fraud? Another FDLE investigation comes up empty.

30

August

The looming potential for fraud in the 2012 Presidential Election was how Republicans justified strict measures in Florida that made it tougher to register voters.

So nine months after the ballots have been counted, where exactly are the culprits of voter registration fraud?

Keep looking because the the Florida Department of Law Enforcement hasn’t found them yet.

On Friday, the agency released the results of two more cases involving allegations of voter registration fraud.

In a probe of the Florida New Majority Education Fund, which aims to increase voter registration among under-represented groups, the FDLE concluded it could make no arrests.

Read report here.

In a second probe, involving Strategic Allied Consulting, a vendor for the Republican Party of Florida, an arrest was made of a man who stole the identity of a former girlfriend’s ex-husband. He admitted to fraudulently filling out two voter registration forms. And that was it.

Read report here.

The rather meager findings of both investigations were in keeping with others that have concluded this year. None have found fraud on a significant scale.  

Two other cases involving Strategic Allied Consulting, based in Miami and Tallahassee, remain open, but even Gov. Rick Scott, who perhaps sounded the alarm of fraud loudest, appears to have moved on.

So far, the paltry findings suggest that the threat of fraud was never as serious as Republicans made it, or that the investigations into fraud have not been thorough enough to find serious wrongdoing.

The two cases released Friday could be a combination of both.

The FDLE said it launched an investigation into the Florida New Majority Education Fund after the Broward County Supervisor of Elections flagged several voter registration applications submitted by the group with names of people who do not have records with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Some forms were in the names of notable people who don’t live in the state, such as Joe Dumars, the general manager of the Detroit Pistons.

FDLE agents traced the bad forms to Zanolee Grant, an employee for the New Majority Education Fund. But Grant could not be found, and investigators concluded that even if she was located, “it would be highly unlikely that criminal charges would be filed against her as her role in the incident was the delivery of the purportedly fraudulent documents” and not with filling them out. Case closed.

The case involving Strategic Allied Consulting is more disconcerting, if only because it should be a slam dunk in producing real cases of fraud.

It involves the firm the Republican Party of Florida hired to register voters. When it was discovered in Palm Beach County that the firm was turning in fraudulent forms, the case grew to include several more counties as more counties reported bad forms submitted by the group. The firm fired at least two employees for purposely filling out bad forms, so making arrests seemed like an easy task, right?

Not exactly.

Until Friday, only one other case, involving Strategic Allied Consulting’s operations in Jacksonville, led to any prosecutions. Even that one was pretty mundane. Two college-age employees admitted to filling out a handful of false voter registration forms and they pleaded guilty in exchange for community service.

Case Number PE-32-0001 focused on Strategic Allied Consulting’s Okaloosa County office, which was managed by a GOP operative named Aaron Braun. Or Aaron Braum. He’s called both in the 106-page report.

Anyway, investigators never even interview Braum (Braun) and instead seem satisfied with arresting an employee named Victor Maida, who admitted to investigators that he filled out two voter registration forms that were fraudulent. But he didn’t admit to registering the deceased woman logs showed was registered by him.

In an ironic twist, Maida actually worked for Strategic Allied Consulting under the name of Thomas Jender. Maida had stolen the identity of Jender, a man who lives in Illinois and is the ex-husband of Maida’s former girlfriend. So the firm Republicans hired to register voters hired a man who used a fake ID -- the same act of fraud that the GOP says makes third-party voter registration so unreliable. Maida was arrested and in December booked in the St. John’s County Jail on a variety of charges, only one involving voter registration fraud.

FDLE investigators seem to have stopped there in their investigation of the Okaloosa County Strategic Allied Consulting office. The supervisor of election offices in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties flagged 50 forms filled out by that office that seemed suspicious. And, according to interviews with 36 former Strategic Allied Consulting employees, it was an office in disarray.

Employees told investigators that they were hired after answering ads on Craig’s List and were paid between $8 and $12 an hour and told to register only Republicans. One ex-employee, Matthew O’Rourke, said that he didn’t turn away Democrats. When he turned in his forms, Braum (Braum) scrawled the number 1193 on the back of Republican forms, while forms for Democrats were placed in a separate stack. “O’Rourke did not know what Braun did with the forms afterward,” the report stated. It’s illegal to destroy voter registration forms.

Like the FDLE’s prior investigation of Strategic Allied Consulting’s Jacksonville operations, employees spoke of chaos and disorder.

One former employee, Jeanine Brock, told an agent that Braun (Braum) was “under trained and overwhelmed. Aaron tried to keep close track of where everyone was and what they were doing, but it got messy unorganized and hard to control.”

Things were so in flux that employees told FDLE agents they had to complain to get paid.

According to the report, a former employee named “Sonnja Skipper” witnessed fraud on a wide scale. Her co-workers signed up people at elderly care facilities “who were mentally incapable of filling out any forms.” She suspected several were filled out fraudulently and that a worker named Debbie West registered herself three times. (West was interviewed by investigators, who apparently never asked about Skipper's allegations).

Skipper also told investigators that Braun told her to “trick and persuade” voters to register as Republicans. When he recognized that the forms his employees were filling out were written in the same handwriting (a calling card of fraud), he laughed.

“Skipper accuses Aaron of being a scam artist and a fraud and was not a good person in this position,” the report says. “Skipper reinforced Aaron was in charge of everything, he was asking Skipper to do things she didn't like but she needed the money, so she did most of it. Skipper said she didn't change any forms but heard others talking about it.”

Of the 50 suspicious forms, investigators found 30 were valid. Eleven forms were submitted by unknowns. Eight forms were for individuals agents couldn't find. One form was filled out correctly, but by someone who said they didn't fill it out. And agents never did figure out who registered the deceased female.

Yet the obvious person to be questioned throughout the investigation would be this Braun (Braum) guy, right?

Well, if investigators interviewed him, it’s not included in the report made public Friday.

[Last modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 9:36pm]

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...