Ex-aide to US Rep Joe Garcia takes plea deal

Jeffrey Garcia to serve 90 days in jail

MIAMI – The former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia struck a deal with prosecutors that will see him serve 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to requesting absentee ballots without voters' permission.

Jeffrey Garcia on Monday pleaded guilty to one count of requesting an absentee ballot fraudulently and three counts of solicitation of absentees. Garcia, 41, was accused of requesting hundreds of ballots online.

"I'd like to make it clear to the voters of district 26 and others that neither I nor anyone working under my direction or my behalf ever tampered with anyone's ballot or interfered with their right to vote in any way. My intent and actors were calculated merely to increase voter participation," he said in court. "When we requested these absentee ballots for voters to be delivered to them without their permission, we were in violation of law and I should not have done it."

Garcia's jail sentence will run concurrently with 18 months probation that includes GPS monitoring. He can't participate in political campaigns during that time.

"He never intended and never did -- I think the facts show -- actually manipulate anybody's vote, interfere with anybody's ballot," said his attorney, Henry Bell. "All they did was request the ballots. The way they did it was in violation of applicable statutes."

"What we had in this case was very striking evidence," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "He hired and conspired and got others to do that. He was trying to access hundreds of absentee ballots for people who had not requested them."

The congressman, who fired Garcia when the investigation began, issued a statement, saying: "Today is a difficult and sad day. It is painful to watch a friend go through this very difficult ordeal.  As we all move past this investigation it must be noted that while these actions were wrong...   No ballots were touched or manipulated in anyway and no voter had their votes interfered with or impeded in any way."