By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
After SAVE Dade challenged the validity of the petition, county election officials examined 200 signatures in two samplings. The results showed that 67 individuals either were not registered voters (a requirement for petition-signers) or their signatures did not match the handwriting sample the county maintains for every voter. In the opinion of elections supervisor David Leahy, that was enough to warrant an examination of all 51,000 signatures.
The Miami Herald, however, contacted a number of people whose signatures had been disqualified for handwriting discrepancies and discovered that some of them had indeed signed the petition. Take Back Miami-Dade leaders later produced 23 affidavits from voters who said they had signed; the group's leaders demanded that the valid signatures be reinstated. Leahy forwarded the issue to the County Attorney's Office for review. If the signatures are reinstated, the petition could be certified.
Leahy says he does not expect to hear from the County Attorney until late this week, but regardless of the legal advice he receives, he does not expect the matter to be settled with his decision. "Whether it's certified good or bad," he predicts, "it's going to end up in court."
Leahy acknowledges that he alerted law-enforcement authorities after finding some of the same problems SAVE Dade discovered. "I don't know if they are all violations," he says, "but there are certainly things that look like they might be." Prosecutors at the State Attorney's Office confirm that they, along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, are investigating the petition. "We're taking a serious look at all the allegations," says Joe Centorino, head of the office's public-corruption unit. "We are certainly reviewing all the documents in connection with it." He would not elaborate on the inquiry except to note that investigators recently met with SAVE Dade representatives to review their findings.
While criminal charges against Take Back Miami-Dade and its leaders may be a remote possibility, SAVE Dade's Jorge Mursuli vows a vigorous pursuit of the fraud allegations. "We are not going to go home without a clear explanation of what happened," he assures. "We are not going to walk away from someone who hurts our community and breaks the law. We are going to be the biggest pains in the butts in the county."
Eladio Armesto-Garcia remains unfazed. "They are using the courts for a frivolous cause," he says. "The real McCoy is they don't want the issue to go to an election. They want to keep the people out of it."