Two Miami men are accused of stealing mail, including two mail-in ballots, from a dropbox at a post office in Broward County.
A police officer on patrol noticed the men lingering next to a mailbox in Lighthouse Point, which is north of Fort Lauderdale, late Tuesday, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.
While questioning Junior Alexander Cabral, 28, and Vladimir Cabral Cuevas, 20, the officer spotted a bag of mail wedged between the front seat and center console of their car, arrest reports show.
The officer also saw a device used to fish mail out of the drop box.
There were two mail-in ballots separated from the rest of the mail.
Cabral and Cuevas were charged with stealing ballots, fraud, and petit theft, records show.
During first court appearances on Thursday morning, Broward Judge Corey Amanda Cawthon expressed concerns about the allegations, especially so close to Election Day.
“I’m not going to speculate as to the intentions behind the allegations, what mail was intended to be recovered or not,” she said. “But, I do have to take notice of the fact we have a very big election coming up next week and the timing seems to be aggravating in Mr. Cabral’s case.”
Defense attorney Richard Cooper, who represents Cuevas, said this case is not what it appears.
“My client was charged incorrectly by overzealous law enforcement looking to fill an empty narrative that would make a politically expedient mountain out of a molehill given the proximity to the general election,” he told the newspaper in a statement issued Thursday.
Cabral and Cuevas had no prior convictions, said Broward assistant state attorney Katherine David who had requested a $10,000 bond for the ballot theft charge.
The judge set bonds totaling $3,025 for each defendant.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is also involved in the investigation.
Lighthouse Point police Cmdr. Jack Vaccaro said the ballots won’t be held as evidence.
“We are making arrangements to return these two ballots to their owners so they can deliver them to be counted,” he said.