Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made much of his crusade to lock up felons who unwittingly voted in 2020, but one registered Republican allegedly voted illegally for nearly a decade before the feds stepped in last week.
Yalemis Onasch, a 28-year-old Cuban national, cast fraudulent ballots in the past two presidential elections before finally becoming an American citizen in 2022, according to a criminal complaint first obtained by The Daily Beast.
The FBI homed in on Onasch after receiving information about her alleged crimes from a “cooperating witness,” the complaint states. And although the tipster is not identified in the filing, it seems Onasch was outed by her ex—the father of her child—with whom she has been locked in an ongoing legal battle, her attorney told The Daily Beast.
Onasch’s troubles were compounded by “den[ying] under oath having registered to vote or voting as part of her naturalization application and interview,” says the complaint.
Onasch, who is accused of unlawfully voting in the 2014 midterm elections, the 2016 general election, the 2020 primaries, and the 2020 general election, was arrested by FBI agents on May 19, and released on $25,000 bond, court records show. The federal case against her appears to be entirely separate from a bumbling statewide crackdown on voter fraud launched by the right-wing DeSantis, who is reportedly eyeing a presidential run in 2024. A Florida-focused task force created by DeSantis with much fanfare last year rounded up some 20 voters, many of them people of color, who had felony convictions that had stripped them of the right to vote. Most had been issued voter ID cards by the state, and reportedly thought their voting rights had been restored.
The criminal complaint against Yalemis Onasch includes her most recent voter registration form, which lists her party affiliation as “Republican Party of Florida.”
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida
DeSantis claimed the effort would bolster election “integrity” after Donald Trump’s loss in 2020 to Joe Biden, and touted the initiative as a necessary tool to counter what the GOP has described as rampant ballot-stuffing by Democrats. But no evidence of widespread voter fraud, in Florida or anywhere else in the country, has ever emerged. And the prosecutions brought thus far by DeSantis’ Office of Election Crimes and Security have largely fallen apart: of the 20 cases, six have been dismissed, and five have resulted in plea deals carrying no jail time. The only defendant to actually go to trial was convicted of lying on his voter registration application, but acquitted of voting illegally.
Desperate for a victory, Florida’s GOP-led legislature earlier this year pushed through a new law handing jurisdiction over election cases from local prosecutors to a statewide prosecutor answering to Attorney General Ashley Moody, a DeSantis ally. Meanwhile, three registered Republicans in Sumter County, Florida—one of them a former county elections inspector—have all pleaded guilty in recent months to felony voter fraud charges for voting twice in the 2020 election.
The complaint against Onasch includes a copy of her most recent voter registration, in which she specifies her party affiliation as Republican.
The investigation into Onasch began in 2022, according to the complaint, which was unsealed Friday in Ft. Myers federal court. Onasch was born in Cuba, and became a legal U.S. resident of the United States in 2006, at the age of 12, the complaint says.
Six years later, Onasch made a fateful decision that would come back to haunt her.
“On or about September 21, 2012, Onasch submitted a new Florida Voter Registration Application (‘FVRA’) with the help of [an unnamed third-party voter registration organization],” the complaint goes on. “In the application, Onasch marked yes to question A, Are you a citizen of the United States of America?”
Onasch was issued a voter ID number and went on to vote in three general elections, as well as one primary, submitting a form in November 2016 to officially update her home address, the complaint says.
At some point last year, the FBI was notified by an unnamed source who claimed Onasch had been voting illegally, the complaint states. Investigators searched election records, and discovered Onasch indeed voted in-person during the 2016 general election, the complaint continues. Under Florida law, Onasch was required to present a photo ID at the polls, which she did, and her signature was verified with the one county election officials had on file, according to the complaint.
Further digging into historical voter data, the FBI discovered Onasch had voted in the 2014 midterms, as well as the 2020 primary and general elections, the complaint alleges. In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it says Onasch requested and received a mail-in ballot, listing the address of a rented mailbox at a local UPS Store as her residence.
Gov. Ron DeSantis attends a 2020 event at a Florida golf club, featuring former President Donald Trump.
Tom Brenner/File Photo via Reuters
Voting by mail was a fixation for former President Donald Trump, who claimed, entirely falsely, that the ballots were being sent to “people that didn’t ask for them,” namely Democrats, and would swing the 2020 election to Biden.
David Joffe, Onasch’s lawyer, told The Daily Beast that he “doesn’t think” his client intended to break the law, but that, “A lot of times, people don’t really pay close attention to these things.”
As a lawyer, Joffe said, he and his colleagues are trained to pay attention to detail. However, he continued, “most people just aren’t that detail-oriented.”
“When she was going to college, they had those [voter registration] tables set up,” Joffe said. “And you’re a student, and you’re doing student things, you’re going to your classes, and you stop by, ‘Hey, what’s this?’ My understanding, she said, ‘I’m a Cuban national, not yet a citizen,’ and they told her, ‘This is your right, you can vote.’ And she’s a 17-year-old kid, so she says, ‘OK,’ and she signs up to vote, and proceeds to vote in multiple elections as she’s gotten older.”
Joffe said he believed Onasch’s ex had tipped off the feds because he “has been giving her a real hard time over the years for no real apparent reason.”
“He’s pretty proactive in terms of constantly taking her to court. He’s just constantly bringing her back to court for all different kinds of things—which parents can do.”
In addition to the charge of voting illegally, Onasch is facing a second charge, of making false statements to immigration authorities. Onasch submitted her citizenship application in January 2021, which she said, under penalty of perjury, that she had never voted, claimed to be a U.S. citizen “in writing or in any other way,” submitted false or misleading documentation to government officials, or committed a crime for which she hadn’t been arrested.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida
This, combined with a June 27, 2022 interview before a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer, during which Onasch reaffirmed, under oath, her answers, constituted a second crime, the feds say. She was sworn in as a U.S. citizen that same day, according to the complaint.
During the naturalization ceremony, Onasch filled out a new Florida voter registration form, the complaint states. The filing includes a copy of the form, which shows Onasch answered “yes” to the first question, “Are you a citizen of the United States of America?” She then listed, among other things, her party affiliation, the Republican Party of Florida. (The complaint does not specify which candidates Onasch allegedly voted for in the past elections. On her previous voter registration forms, the boxes for birthplace, race/ethnicity, political party, and gender were left blank.)
“Poor Yalemis is crying, she’s terrified,” Joffe told The Daily Beast. “She’s a stay-at-home mom now, she’s got her own child as well as her husband’s kids. They’re just trying to make a living as a young couple, and then this thing pops up. The [FBI] agents had come to her place and dropped off a target letter, and here we are.”
Onasch appeared before a judge following her arrest last Friday, and was released on $25,000 unsecured bond. She surrendered her Cuban passport, and was ordered not to leave Central Florida except to meet with Joffe.
If convicted on both counts, Onasch faces up to six years in prison and $350,000 in fines.