2 charged in alleged Florida sham candidate scheme, including former lawmaker

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 8:42 AM CDT
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(CNN) - A former Florida state lawmaker Frank Artiles was arrested Thursday, accused of funding a sham candidate in an upset election.

“Today we are alleging that November’s Florida Senate District 37 election involved crimes,” Miami Dade State Attorney Kathy Rundle said.

She said disgraced lawmaker Artiles has masterminded a plot to help a Republican win a key Florida State Senate seat.

“He knew then and we are alleging that he knows now that he was blatantly thumbing his nose at the law,” Rundle said.

Last November, incumbent Democrat José Javier Rodríguez lost his seat by just 32 votes, a race he said he would have won: “There’s no question that this had an impact on a race that was ultimately decided by 32 votes out of nearly a quarter million cast.”

There was a third candidate in the race, a sham candidate with the same last name as the Democrat, who siphoned away Democratic votes - Alex Rodriguez, who’s also charged in the plan.

Alex Rodriguez told officials Frank Artiles paid him nearly $45,000 to be a so-called ghost candidate.

He was promoted as a liberal in advertising mailers but never campaigned and never debated.

“In addition to the same surname, there was also a very well orchestrated and funded last minute campaign to persuade voters and frankly trick them,” José Javier Rodríguez said.

While entering a sham candidate into a political race isn’t a crime, the funding of one is, according to prosecutors.

Both Artiles and Rodriguez are charged with three felonies each.

“What is a crime is making illegal campaign contributions to get a candidate to run,” Rundle said.

The Republican challenger who won the election by just 32 votes is Ileana Garcia, a founder of Latinas for Trump.

Prosecutors said there’s no evidence she knew anything about the plot to get her elected. Her spokesperson said she’s never even met Artiles.

Artiles’ attorney said his client is cooperating, and “we fully intend to defend any charges in court.”

This case is part of a pattern previously reported on last year - three races with ghost candidates supported by political action committees that all registered at the same time and had similar donations and similar spending on nearly identical mailers.

“There was also hundreds of thousands of dollars of dark money. We still don’t know where it came from, sending mailers to voters in the district to confuse them with Democratic leaning messages,” José Javier Rodríguez said.

Alex Rodriguez’s attorney said his client deeply regrets being used in this way for this election.

As for Artiles, he has had a history of controversies. He had to resign from his Florida State Senate seat in 2017 after using racial slurs in front of two Black lawmakers.

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