Woman arrested in Ocala for election-related identity fraud

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Posted September 6, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

A 24-year-old paid petition circulator was charged with 16 felony counts of fraudulent use of personal identification information on Aug. 29 in Ocala, according to the Marion County Supervisor of Elections.

Maria Guadalupe Bautista turned in 191 petition forms that were suspected of being fraudulent for a constitutional amendment for the Limited Authorization of Casino Gaming, according to a press release from Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox.

An investigation began in November of 2021 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office, the Fifth Judicial Circuit and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office into a total of 767 petition forms that were suspected of being fraudulent.

Out of Bautista’s 191 forms, 16 were confirmed to be fraudulent during the investigation. Two of the forged petition forms used the identities of individuals who were deceased at the time the signatures were forged, according to the press release.

The constitutional amendment the petitions were for, which failed to make it onto the ballot in 2022, was to authorize businesses with cardroom licenses to offer casino gaming if they make minimum capital investment toward new development and construction if passed, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Bautista was charged by and will be prosecuted by the State Attorney’s office. She was booked into the Marion County Jail on Aug. 29. Her bail was set at $80,000, or $5,000 per count of identity fraud, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) database.

Her arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 3 at 9 a.m. in front of Circuit Judge Peter Brigham, according to the MCSO.

“Supervisors of Elections take fraud seriously and are committed to protecting your vote,” said Wilcox in the press release. “Throughout the year, our staff verifies thousands of candidate and initiative petitions signed by Marion County voters and validates the signature on each petition.”

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