“Two suspects in Florida have been arrested after being accused of stealing mail and mail-in ballots earlier this week by using an apparent homemade device capable of lifting letters out of a dropbox, reports said.
A police officer in Lighthouse Point, near Fort Lauderdale, spotted a vehicle that seemed to be lingering near a mailbox late Tuesday night, the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida reported.
The officer said he spotted the device, mail and two ballots while questioning the suspects, the report said.
The suspects were identified as Junior Alexander Cabral, 28, and Vladimir Cabral Cuevas, 20.
The mailboxes were also considered ballot drop-off boxes, Miami’s WPLG-TV reported.
Richard Cooper, the attorney for Cuevas, told the Sun-Sentinel his client was incorrectly charged 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.”
Neither man had a prior conviction and the ballots will be returned to the voters, the newspaper reported.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is also investigating. The report said the men were being held on $3,025 bond.
The suspects appeared in court Thursday, where a Broward County judge told them she would not “speculate on the intentions behind the allegations,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“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,” Judge Corey Amanda Cawthon said, according to the paper.
WPLG went on:
“The Lighthouse Point officer said he watched the pair in the SUV spend 3 or 4 minutes near the boxes. Recently, all LHPPD officers had been made aware that those specific drop boxes had been subject to theft over the past year.
As the officer approached the Honda in his patrol car, the driver started to leave.
He did stop the vehicle and said he saw the passenger, identified later as Alexander Cabral, shoving something between the seat and the center console of the car. The officer also saw a bag with a small red bottle wrapped with duct tape and a rope attached to it. The officer said it appeared to be some kind of homemade device that could be used to steal mail.
At the post office Thursday, people had mixed feelings about using the blue boxes.
Rebecca Heilman said she doesn’t feel safe putting mail in the drop off. “Anyone can take it out.”
Another person we spoke with said they thought it was unlikely that the mail would be tampered with and they had put their mail-in ballot in a similar box in Pompano Beach.
In 2016 during the election, we showed you homemade devices crooks used to fish inside boxes and pull up mail to get it out.
U.S. Postal Inspector Bladisimir Rojo showed us a variety of homemade devices when we interviewed him in 2016.
One device was created with a weight attached to a rope with duct tape facing out.
“They drop it in the box with the goal to have the mail stick to the tape. And then they pull it out.”
Another scammer used a pillow case, tape and a hanger.
Rojo said: “The mail thief placed it at the mouth of the box. Customers couldn’t see it and (the mail) would go into the sack then he’d be able to pull it out.”
In the Lighthouse Point case, police believe the suspects were not fishing for ballots, but for mail with personal information on it.
The U.S. Postal Service has this advice when using drop-off mailboxes: Never place mail in collection boxes at night, after hours or on a holiday or weekend where it is likely to sit in the box for a while before being collected.
Inside the Honda SUV, the LPPD located a bundle of mail belonging to multiple people and two voter ballots that were separated from the other pieces of mail. The suspects admitted to retrieving all of the mail from just one of the drop-off boxes.
The Lighthouse Point Police Department told Local 10 the ballots have been returned to their rightful owner so they can be turned in and counted.
Cabral-Duevas and Cabral are charged with third-degree felonies including tampering with a ballot box and fraud.”
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