Arrest Made in Florida Election Fraud Case Linked to 2021 Casino Gaming Campaign
Posted on: August 30, 2023, 04:03h. Last updated on: August 30, 2023, 04:03h.
An Ocala, Fla. woman has been arrested and charged with election fraud relating to the 2021 Las Vegas Sands Corp ballot campaign to allow limited casino gaming in the state.
Maria Guadalupe Bautista, 24, is facing 16 counts of fraudulent use of personal identification information, according to a statement by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
In 2021, LVS invested a remarkable $49.5 million into the “Florida Voters in Charge” (FVC) political action committee (PAC). The PAC’s goal was to add an initiative to the 2022 ballot, seeking permission for North Florida card rooms to operate as casinos.
The implications of this initiative could have allowed LVS and other gaming companies to acquire a pari-mutuel card room in or around Jacksonville and convert it into a luxurious Las Vegas-style casino resort.
The campaign faced strong opposition from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which holds the exclusive rights to casino gaming in the state. The tribe invested millions to counter the proposal.
Inflated Submissions and Deceased Names
The FVC ballot initiative failed to obtain the required number of signatures. However, election supervisors in several counties noticed an abnormally high number of invalid submissions, including names of deceased individuals.
One supervisor discovered the signature of a deceased woman she used to see at Church, while another found his own and his wife’s names on one of the petitions, according to Northwest Florida Daily News and The Miami Herald, respectively.
An investigation by the FDLE was initiated in November 2021, after Marion County Supervisor of Election staff identified 767 suspicious submissions. Bautista was responsible for 191 of the suspected fraudulent forms.
Investigators concluded that 16 of Bautista’s submitted petitions contained fraudulent signatures, including two from deceased individuals. Bautista is currently held at Marion County Jail on an $80,000 bond.
Bautista is the second individual to face charges of voter fraud in connection with this incident, following the arrest of 65-year-old Kasandra Baylor from St Petersburg in late May.
Exchange of Accusations
Campaign tactics employed by both sides were unscrupulous. FVC accused the Seminoles of employing covert tactics to undermine their ballot initiative, such as coordinated harassment and intimidation of signature collectors.
In a lawsuit that was later retracted, FVC alleged that entities supported by the Seminoles deliberately submitted invalid signatures. The tribe was also accused of paying FVC signature collectors to abandon their campaign efforts and even leave the state.
Conversely, the Seminoles accused FVC of compensating petitioners per signature, which has been illegal in Florida since 2019, instead of by the hour.
At the time, both sides vehemently denied these allegations.