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Francis Suarez Campaign Caught in Absentee Ballot Fraud Probe

Since winning a seat on the Miami City Commission in 2009, Francis Suarez worked hard to forge his own political identity and avoid the type of absentee ballot voter fraud scandal that derailed his father's mayoral run in 1997. But now the young Cuban American Republican is in full damage control after public corruption detectives raided the home of his political campaign worker Juan Pablo Baggini.

"We're confident that once the law enforcement officials review all the information that they have gathered that they will conclude that there was no willful violation of the law," Suarez told TV news reporters at City Hall yesterday, just hours after the raid.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office is investigating Baggini after county elections workers flagged a series of 20 absentee-ballot requests made on May 29 that were linked to Baggini's computer. Suarez is running for mayor against incumbent Tomas Regalado.

Suarez insisted no one in his campaign violated campaign laws. The commissioner told reporters that he, Baggini, and other campaign staffers held an event in Brickell to reach out to younger voters and gathered permission from the 20 voters to request the absentee ballots from election officials on their behalf. Suarez said Baggini transmitted that request over his computer.

"We are confident that all of the different absentee ballot request forms were requested individually by people voluntarily and of their own volition," Suarez said.

Whether Suarez obtained permission to request those ballots is moot. It can be a third-degree felony in Florida to submit an absentee-ballot request for anyone who is not an immediate family member. It also can be a first-degree felony to use another person's confidential information online.

It's surprising that Suarez would even take a chance given what happened to his dad, current County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, in 1997. That year, a court effectively removed Xavier Suarez from the mayor's post and invalidated that election after finding massive ballot fraud by people working on Xavier's campaign. He was not implicated in the wrongdoing.

After that campaign, the Legislature passed a series of laws designed to ensure that absentee ballots -- the easiest to commit voter fraud with because they're mailed in -- are more secure.

Still, Suarez told reporters that the investigation into his campaign bears little resemblance to fraud that occurred in the 1997 election, when campaign workers were busted forging voter signatures, even one of a dead citizen.

The raid at Baggini's home was the second performed by police and prosecutors since May 31, when investigators searched three locations in a separate absentee-ballot fraud case involving the 2012 campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. The Miami Democrat has said he wasn't aware three of his staffers might have fraudulently requested absentee ballots for hundreds of voters without their permission.

One of those Garcia campaign workers briefly volunteered for Suarez's mayoral campaign.

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.

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