Weinstein is with Hinshaw law firm in Coral Gables. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida for more than a decade.
- Let's talk about this now with David Weinstein. He's a former assistant US attorney. And he is now with the Hinshaw Law Firm.
David, thanks so much for being with us this evening. Now, perhaps one of the most interesting parts of this story is that these two were not actually charged for running a phony campaign. Why is that?
DAVID WEINSTEIN: Well, Lauren, there's no law on the books in Florida that allows the prosecutors to charge them with that. So they have to charge them with campaign finance fraud law, and also falsely swearing to the affidavit that made him eligible to run for office. These are both felonies that they're facing on the campaign finance and the allegations of falsely swearing-- up to five years. But which realistically, they're looking at probation or some sort of county jail sentence.
The fact that they ran these elections, that's not what's at the crux of the charges that are in place here, but rather the fact that they gave money to run this illegal campaign. And that's the law that they're charged with violating.
- So David, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. I wanted to ask, so then, if they do enact laws against ghost campaigns, who then would be in charge of deciding who is a legitimate candidate for office? And who might just be trying to tip those scales?
DAVID WEINSTEIN: Well, good to see you too, Brooke. That's a very interesting question. And the fact of the matter is, it's going to be the legislators who sit in the current legislature right now that are going to have to come up with some sort of a law that would prohibit this type of conduct. And the difficulty with enacting that type of legislation is, it's everyone's right to run for an office. If you are otherwise eligible to run, you can put your name on the ballot.
So how do we determine who's a ghost candidate, who's a realistic candidate? Are we going to make you answer certain questions under oath and say that you're running because you want to run? Or are they simply going to crack down on making sure that people live where they say that they were living? In this particular instance, if they would have done that, they would have determined that Alex Rodriguez really wasn't residing in Miami-Dade County, and his name should have been taken off the ballot.
- David, I'm sure a question that a lot of our viewers have right now is, OK, so what does this mean for the results of the election?
DAVID WEINSTEIN: Well, unfortunately, because the election itself wasn't challenged within 10 days of the results being final, they can't overturn it in a civil lawsuit. However, and very unlikely, if the legislators themselves wanted to invalidate this election and really put this under close scrutiny, they could under our state Constitution examine this election and recall the candidates. But I think that's unlikely to happen, primarily because the candidate who won had no idea that this was going on in the election in which he was running.
- So basically the only recourse for the candidate who lost, José Javier Rodriguez, is to just run again next time?
DAVID WEINSTEIN: He's going to have to go back and try to regain his seat. He can go out in canvas his other former co-legislators and encourage them to enact some type of reform here, to put candidates under stricter scrutiny, to really swear that they are running for office, to make sure that they're complying with all the regulations, and to let people know that you need to be a little more careful about who you're voting for in the election. If, in fact, it was just a different name and you thought you were voting for the right candidate, then as voters, we have to pay closer attention to what we're doing in the election.
- So finally David here, if these men are convicted, what kind of prison time are they looking at?
DAVID WEINSTEIN: None realistically, quite frankly. Statutorily, there's five years cap on the two felonies. But under the sentencing punishment code, they're looking at probation, non-state prison sanctions. And quite frankly, they're eligible for pretrial diversion, which would allow them to engage in some sort of rehabilitation beforehand, not even admit their wrongdoing, and then have this arrest wiped off their record.
- David Weinstein, thank you for your insight tonight. Always so informative. Thanks.