LVS Casino Petition Sees Florida Woman Charged with Election Fraud
Posted on: August 30, 2023, 04:03h.
Last updated on: August 30, 2023, 08:45h.
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 Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) statement.
In 2021, LVS plowed an unprecedented $49.5 million into a political action committee (PAC) called “Florida Voters in Charge” (FVC). The PAC was campaigning to get an initiative on the 2022 ballot asking voters to amend the state constitution to allow North Florida card rooms to become casinos.
Theoretically, this could have enabled LVS and other gaming companies to purchase a pari-mutuel card room in or around the Jacksonville area that could then have been converted into a Las Vegas-style casino resort.
The campaign was fiercely opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has exclusivity on casino gaming in the state. The tribe also funneled tens of millions into counterattacking the proposal.
Raising the Dead
Ultimately, the FVC ballot initiative failed to get the requisite number of signatures. But not before election supervisors in several counties noticed an unprecedented number of invalid submissions, some of which included the names of people who had died.
One supervisor told the Northwest Florida Daily News that she had discovered the signature of a woman she used to see at Church who had been dead for five years. Another told The Miami Herald he had found his own name and that of his wife on one of the petitions.
The FDLE began investigating the fraudulent petitions in November 2021 after Marion County Supervisor of Election staff identified 767 suspicious submissions. Bautista turned in 191 of the suspected fraudulent forms.
Investigators found that 16 petitions submitted by Bautista contained fraudulent signatures. Two of those were from people who had died before submission, according to the FDLE. Bautista was booked into the Marion County Jail on Tuesday, where she is being held on an $80K bond.
She is the second person to be charged with voter fraud in relation to the incident following the arrest in late May of Kasandra Baylor, a 65-year-old St. Petersburg woman.
Campaigning on both sides of the issue was unsavory from the get-go. FVC claimed the Seminoles used underhand tactics to sabotage its ballot initiative, including the “coordinated harassment and intimidation” of signature gatherers.
In a lawsuit, later withdrawn, the PAC alleged entities backed by the Seminoles were purposefully submitting invalid signatures. It also accused the tribe of paying FVC signature gatherers to quit working on the campaign and even to leave the state.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles accused FVC of paying petitioners per signature rather than by the hour, which has been illegal in Florida since 2019.
Both sides fervently denied all of the allegations at the time.
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