Florida shill candidate scheme widens to include Rep. Matt Gaetz

There are connections between a ghost candidate in Central Florida and the same dark money that funded the two South Florida shill candidates a Local 10 News investigation uncovered last fall.

MIAMI – A clear money trail connects a ‘ghost candidate’ in a Central Florida state senate race last November with two other South Florida shill candidates who were subjects of a Local 10 News investigation uncovered last fall.

The scheme to plant that Central Florida candidate has now been linked to Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, according to a New York Times report detailing a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations.

The alleged planted candidate in Central Florida’s District 9 State Senate race is Jestine Iannotti, whose financial support from a Political Action Committee shows identical patterns to that of two shill candidates: Alex Rodríguez , who ran in Miami Senate District 37, and Celso Alfonso, who ran in District 39.

Rodriguez has since been criminally charged, as has resigned Florida Senator Frank Artiles, both with campaign finance crime.

Bogus campaign records for both shill candidates were retrieved from Artiles’ home in a raid last month.

Florida Division of Elections campaign finance database shows clear financial connections between them and Iannotti, the third shill candidate now tied to Rep. Gaetz by the New York Times.

It starts with two political action committees that were opened the very same day, On Oct. 2; Our Florida PAC, backing South Florida candidates Rodríguez and Alfonso, and The Truth PAC for Central Florida candidate, Iannotti.

The next day, both PACs reported their one and only contribution: an untraceable Atlanta company Proclivity that would suddenly change in the records to the also untraceable Denver company, Grow United.

Two days after that, on Oct. 5, both PACs make their one and only expenditure: the combined half-million dollars to a printer company called Advance Impression.

The resulting campaign flyers looked identical in graphics, but for the three candidates’ names, making the no-party candidates appealing to democratic voters that they were meant to confuse.

The printer is located in Clermont, but the owners are from Miami; the mother and stepfather of a Republican strategist connected to both PACs, both of which have since been disabled.

Gaetz is allegedly connected to the Central Florida shill scheme, according to the New York Times.

But it’s that dark money, not the scheme, that makes a shill illegal, as the arrests of former Senator Artiles and shill Rodríguez show so far.


Ex-Sen. Frank Artiles’ home raided in shill candidate investigation

Read the warrant alleging ex-Florida Sen. Frank Artiles paid shill candidate to dupe voters

Ex-Florida Sen. Frank Artiles walks out of jail facing felony campaign finance charges

Democrats want new election after sham candidate arrests, but where was the outrage before this case?

Former Senator Frank Artiles faces new charges in alleged shill candidate scheme

About the Author:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."