JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two employees of a company once aligned with the Republican Party of Florida admitted to law-enforcement authorities that they forged voter registration forms -- some while working to register students at the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University.
It's the first result in a far-reaching voter fraud investigation that was launched last fall -- and initiated at the urging of the party after election supervisors started flagging questionable applications.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported Tuesday that the two ex-employees were charged with a third-degree felony. But prosecutors back in January decided to place both of them on probation because neither has a criminal history.
Strategic Allied Consulting was hired by Republicans to do voter registration drives in Florida and other states. But last fall, the state party fired the company and took the additional step of filing an election fraud complaint against the company with state officials.
This does not end the investigation into Strategic Allied. There are four other cases across the state still under investigation according to FDLE.
But Frederick Petti, an attorney who represents the company, said he's already been told by law-enforcement authorities that the investigation is focused on no more than six employees. He said Strategic Allied had roughly 2,000 employees in Florida and said the end result shows that the controversy was a "tempest in a teapot."
"What this comes down to is that we had had a few employees who were not good employees," Petti said. "They were filling out fake forms."
Mike Grissom, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, said that the party was pleased that law-enforcement officials "acted swiftly to ensure that justice was done."
"We've said from the outset that the Republican Party of Florida has a zero tolerance policy for any type of voter fraud," Grissom said in a statement.
An FDLE report states that Rebekah Joy Paul turned in 20 fraudulent voter registration applications while Christian Davis Price submitted seven fake ones.
Price told investigators that he turned in fake applications because he would not get paid otherwise. He said he worked for three weeks trying to register students at JU and the UNF before he was fired after allegations of voter fraud emerged.
Paul initially denied to investigators that she turned in fraudulent applications, but then she eventually admitted that she did forge them. She also said she had to turn in applications in order to get paid. Paul also told investigators that her bosses at Strategic Allied told her to not register Democrats. Paul left her job after three weeks to take a job with Waffle House.
Petti said the company never instructed employees to not register Democrats. He said that in the end, as many as 40 percent of the people who registered through the company in Florida were Democrats.
Former Strategic Allied field director Jeff Jewett said he's the one who noticed something wasn't right with the forms he was given from Price.
"It was ridiculous, because I saw that the signature was the same, you know, on every form, and it really made me internally angry, being a veteran," Jewett said.
He said he always made it clear to employees that faking the forms was unacceptable and illegal.
Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said people in his office look out for voter fraud every day and certainly don't tolerate it.
"It's not a very smart crime because it is one that is easy to catch," he said. "And now with third party registration, we know the people who are doing it. We assign a number to them."
Since the investigation, the Republican Party of Florida fired the consulting company, a firm that said in a statement it was cooperating with investigators, and additionally, "Rest assured, contractors who cannot follow our rules -- or the law -- are fired immediately."
FDLE also announced Tuesday that it was closing two other voter fraud investigations.
One of the complaints was against the Florida Democratic Party. A resident of Lehigh Acres said a party employee told him he could register to vote even though he is not a U.S. citizen. Jorge Cala told investigators he could not read the form and did not understand what he was signing. When he received a voter card he filed a complaint with election officials.
Cala, however, was unable to pick out the Democratic Party employees from a photo lineup. An FDLE spokeswoman said if the agency gets further information then the case could be reopened.
FDLE also has decided against proceeding any further against a Floridian accused of voting in both Florida and Ohio back in 2010. While he did vote twice he told investigators that he moved to the state in October and could not remember if he cast an absentee ballot in Ohio. The Seminole County resident was 70 years old at the time.
This was one of two cases investigated by FDLE based on complaints about voters casting ballots in multiple states. Both are now closed.
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