A former Florida Republican state senator paid more than $40,000 over the course of a year to a sham candidate meant to siphon votes away from a Democratic politician in a state race last year, police say.
Frank Artiles, a political consultant who resigned from the Florida Senate in 2017 after calling two black Democrats a racist slur and following multiple bar fights, now faces felony campaign finance charges.
Artiles is accused of a scheme to pay a sham candidate with the same last name as the Democratic incumbent to run in a state Senate race. The incumbent, Jose Javier Rodriguez, lost by 32 votes to Republican Ileana Garcia.
The fake candidate — mechanic Alex Rodriguez — received 6,000 votes, despite not campaigning and living miles away from the electoral district in question.
An arrest warrant filed by officials with the Miami Public Corruption Unit Task Force lays out a scheme as bizarre as it is brazen: Artiles paid Rodriguez $44,708.03 from the time he signed on to be a fake candidate until December 2020, when Rodriguez sat for an interview with police, the warrant says.
It alleges that Artiles approached Rodriguez in May 2020, asking for help with a “political matter.”
The two met, and Artiles made Rodriguez an offer: if he agreed to run as an independent in the race, Artiles would pay the mechanic $25,000 during the race and $25,000 after, according to the warrant.
“We have money in an account,” the ex-senator purportedly told Artiles.
Rodriguez told investigators that he agreed. Artiles explained that it was part of an effort to “confuse voters and siphon votes from the incumbent,” the warrant says, and that Rodriguez wouldn’t have to do anything except check his phone regularly for messages from the state elections department.
Over the next year, the warrant says, Rodriguez would go to Artiles for money, asking for help with rent payments as well as payments for his children’s private school. At one point, it says, the pair bought a Range Rover together, and also attempted to start a PPE business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It remains unclear whether the thousands of dollars that Artiles gave Rodriguez are his own, or whether an unknown third party funded Artiles’s efforts, as local media reports have speculated.
Juan-Carlos Planas, a former Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives who represented the incumbent Democrat in the recount, told TPM that he suspects Artiles did not act alone.
“I’ve known Artiles since law school — it’s not Artiles’s money, he doesn’t have access to $50k,” Planas said.
Planas, a never-Trump Republican, told TPM he left the party after the 2020 election because the GOP had become the party of Trump.
“Money is not moved around without leadership knowing,” Planas added, referring to the state GOP.
Rodriguez’s run as a fake candidate first came to light in November 2020. WPLG, a Miami-area ABC affiliate, found that multiple sham candidates had popped up across the state of Florida, all with the apparent motive of using similar last names to siphon votes away from Democratic opponents.
The Rodriguez election is the only example where the scheme appears to have tipped the vote to the Republicans. But the scandal revealed something odd: a mystery Political Action Committee with a sole contributor registered in Georgia spent $550,000 on political mailings targeted at Democrats to spread the word about the sham candidates.
Politico reported in December that the company which contributed to the PACs behind the mailings had changed its name to match that of an organization with a track record of giving to Democrats.
William Barzee, an attorney for Rodriguez, declined to comment to TPM beyond a statement issued on his client’s behalf.
“Frank Artiles and his co-conspirators knew they couldn’t beat Jose Javier Rodriguez in a fair election so they rigged it,” the statement reads. “Artiles cynically targeted and used a vulnerable ‘friend’ with a great name to run in the race in order to confuse voters and steal the election. Alex Rodriguez deeply regrets allowing himself to be used in this way and hopes that by coming forth with the truth he can help to right these wrongs.”
The Miami Herald first named Artiles as potentially being involved in December, saying that the former senator had bragged about his involvement at a bar on election night.
Artiles reportedly surrendered to police on Thursday. An attorney for the former Senator did not return requests for comment.
Read the warrant here: