The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Once gung-ho on fighting voter fraud, Scott now sounding ho-hum

25

June

Gov. Rick Scott is showing zero interest in following up on the state’s efforts to investigate voter registration fraud.

When asked at a news conference Tuesday if he’s reviewed either of the two cases closed by the state’s Department of Law Enforcement into a vendor hired by the Republican Party of Florida, Scott had a one word reply: “No.”

As the Times/Herald reported last week, a Jacksonville case involving two former employees of the vendor, Strategic Allied Consulting, was closed in January (and released to the media in March) after the employees admitted to forging voter registration forms. Because both employees had clean criminal records, they only served probation. But FDLE investigators closed the investigation before they interviewed the supervisors of the two employees. One of the supervisors, Jeff Jewett, said he was surprised no one from the state contacted him, considering he was the one who blew the whistle.

Could FDLE investigators have found more fraudulent forms if they had bothered to interview Jewett and other employees in the offices? Possibly. Ray Robbins worked in Jewett’s office and estimated that 20 percent of the forms turned in were forged. Yet investigators didn’t interview Robbins either.

The FDLE also released details last week of a case it had closed in April involving suspicious forms in Lee and Charlotte counties. Investigators said they verified that 11 voter registration forms filled out by employees working for Strategic Allied Consulting were fraudulent. This case, however, has even less information available than the Jacksonville case. No recordings of the interviews with the suspected employees, none of whom admitted to forging the applications, none of whom were subsequently arrested. As in the Jacksonville case, FDLE investigators closed the investigation before speaking with supervisors.

One employee linked to the fraudulent forms, Angelica Rivera, told investigators that her bosses were “Melody” and “Daniel.”

“She could not remember their last names,” the investigator wrote in the FDLE case file. Apparently, that stopped investigators cold. The case makes no mention of any effort to find Rivera’s bosses after they interviewed her. Without her breaking down and admitting to forging the applications, investigators concluded she “was unable to provide any further information pertaining to this investigation.”

Three more cases involving the vendor, Strategic Allied Consulting, are pending. They are based in Pensacola, Miami and Tallahassee, but details about them won’t be known until they are closed.

Problems with the vendor became known after Palm Beach County elections officials discovered fraudulent forms filed by Strategic Allied on Sept. 18. Shortly after that, it was discovered that an elections official in Lee County had flagged suspicious forms. In all, a dozen counties reported the suspicious forms with the RPOF’s ID on it. The vendor, which was fired by the RPOF, fired two employees who they said were responsible for the forged forms in Palm Beach and Lee counties. So far, neither of the two concluded investigations have mentioned these two employees, who are presumably getting or have been prosecuted.

What’s taking so long? The FDLE won’t say. But so far, the FDLE has shown a surprising lack of investigative rigor or urgency. None of the employees interviewed in the two investigations were supervisors. Only higher-ups could provide accounts of how Strategic Allied Consulting managed more than 2,000 employees across the state.

The tepid investigative response from FDLE is hardly in line with the Republican campaign, leading up to the 2012 election, to stamp out any threat of voter registration fraud. Republican lawmakers passed HB 1355, which imposed stricter deadlines on voter registration groups to prevent the type of fraud that plagued Strategic Allied Consulting.

“I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there’s no fraud involved in elections,” Scott when he signed the bill into law. “All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest.”

Two years later, when Scott was asked if he was satisfied with the thoroughness of the investigations into Strategic Allied, he responded with a vague and unrelated affirmation of voting rights.

“I want to make sure every election we have that the people who have a right to vote in our state go out and vote,” Scott said.

But was the FDLE, which he controls, conducting thorough investigations into fraud? Scott wasn’t saying.

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 5:17pm]

    

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