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
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Felix Lasarte, a zoning lawyer with Holland & Knight whose clients include Shojaee, helped form the PAC. "Seijas has served her district well for a very long time," Lasarte says.
Another pro-Seijas PAC, Citizens to Protect the People's Choice, collected $185,000 between April and November. PAC treasurer Daniel Hernandez has been Seijas's campaign treasurer during her three previous elections. "I've known her since before she entered politics," Hernandez says. "She is a woman of great integrity."
Developer Sergio Pino put up $26,000 through five of his corporations. Affordable housing builder and ex-Hialeah Councilman Silvio Cardoso ponied up $8500 through seven of his companies. Adrian gave $6000, and Shojaee donated $5000.
That PAC has spent $77,860 to pay election law and civil rights attorney Stephen Cody to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the recall group against the county.
It's here that Seijas's connection to the strong-mayor vote surfaces. Cody simultaneously represents Citizens for Open Government, a PAC formed to fight the petition; it is funded by pro-Seijas developers including Shojaee and Adrian, who kicked in $50,000. The anti-strong mayor's treasurer is Hernandez, who insists Seijas is not involved. "When we started this effort, I told Natacha to stay out of it," he says. "I told her not to worry about what we were doing."
About 5:00 on a recent afternoon, John Wade was tending some foliage near the lush front yard of his Redland home when an unmarked Miami-Dade Police car pulled into his driveway. Out stepped public corruption unit Dets. Javier Garcia and Jeanine Robinson. They were part of a multiagency task force investigating allegations that the committee to recall Seijas submitted forged signatures to the county clerk.
The detectives wanted to know if Pat was home. Then they asked the couple to provide a sworn statement. The Wades agreed on the condition they be allowed to tape-record the interview. "We weren't going to be intimidated," Pat says.
The police carried blown-up black-and-white copies of the couple's driver's licenses and interviewed them for three hours. They asked why the committee was formed and how the recall PAC obtained signatures, even questioning whether they had folded the top of the petition so people couldn't read what they were signing.
They wanted to know why the Wades had a beef with Seijas. "Were any circulators ever paid by the number of names collected?" Robinson inquired. "Where did the funds come from to pay the circulators? Was there any training given to either paid or volunteer circulators?"
The couple balked at the detectives' request for handwriting samples. "They wanted us to write out this whole paragraph," Pat says incredulously. "I don't believe handwriting analysis is a science."
Overtown activist Marva Lightbourne, who collected ten signatures, has also been contacted by authorities. She was on her way to M. Athalie Range's viewing when Det. Mike Holmes approached her about scheduling an interview. "I was busy that afternoon, but I told him I would contact him later," Lightbourne says. "But he insisted on asking me a couple of questions. Who was my main contact on the recall committee? Where did I collect signatures? Did I fold over the petition?"
On November 13, Joe Centorino, head of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office Public Corruption Unit, sent a letter to Seijas, Ruvin, the recall PAC, and elections supervisor Lester Sola, explaining that he and others had opened a criminal probe into faked signatures on the recall group's petition.
In the letter, Centorino stated the probe was based on allegations from 34 people who claim their signatures were forged. He claimed another 66 residents reported the petitioners lied to them.
During an interview, Centorino said the investigation was initiated based on information provided by Seijas, including affidavits she collected from voters claiming they did not sign the petition or were misled. "When we receive allegations of fraud in the electoral process, we can't ignore it," he commented. "We have an obligation to investigate."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating, Centorino said.
Pat Wade accuses the state attorney and the cops of providing Seijas with political cover. "I've never seen anything like this," she fumes. "They are visiting us in pairs, and it is never the same detective. They are putting in a lot of man hours."
Miami-Dade Police Det. Luis Rodriguez, who is in charge of the probe, declined to comment. But he denied political motivation. "At the conclusion, we're going to show that we had legitimate reasons for conducting this investigation," Rodriguez said.
Seijas seems to be relishing her handiwork. At a recent county commission meeting, she offered an ominous revelation. "The Herreras, the Wades, and the Pizzis of the world," she cackled, "I'm going to take care of them."
With the recall election less than a week away, the odds are in Seijas's favor. During early voting at Hialeah's John F. Kennedy Library on December 5, three buses filled with viejitas wearing T-shirts and holding signs that read "Amigas de Natacha" cast their ballots to keep the veteran pol in office.
Three days later, Seijas personally delivered a busload of elderly voters to the library after she had taken them out for breakfast. When the commissioner caught sight of the recall PAC's volunteers outside the library, she berated them, says Lourdes Aguirre, a Hialeah community activist. "She yelled at them in Spanish," Aguirre describes. "She said, öWhy are you here? You don't belong here. What have I done to you personally?'"