MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Frank Artiles walked out of Miami-Dade County jail late Thursday night after posting a $5,000 bond. The former Florida state senator is accused of masterminding and funding a sham candidate to manipulate voters last November.
Artiles is facing charges of felony campaign finance crimes. He turned himself in and was booked into Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on Thursday — a day after his Palmetto Bay home was raided. Shill candidate Alex Rodriguez was also booked on Thursday morning.
Their charges (all third-degree felonies) include:
- Making or receiving campaign contributions over or in excess of limits
- Conspiracy to make or receive two or more campaign contributions over or in excess of limits
- False swearing in connection with voting or elections
Rodriguez was released on bond Thursday afternoon and declined comment outside the jail.
According to a warrant obtained by Local 10 News, investigators say Artiles offered to pay Rodriguez $50,000 — half during the election and half afterward — for Rodriguez to enter November’s District 37 state senate race, where he shared a last name with the incumbent Democrat candidate Jose Javier Rodriguez.
Republican challenger Ileana Garcia ultimately defeated Jose Javier Rodriguez by just 32 votes for that seat. The plant candidate Alex Rodriguez, a deep-in-debt machinery rep who actually lived two counties away from the district, got over 6,000 votes despite not actually campaigning, nor having actual political aspirations.
There is no evidence to suggest Garcia was involved or had any knowledge of the shill being planted in the race.
“Artiles and his co-conspirators knew they couldn’t beat Jose Javier Rodriguez in a fair election so they rigged it,” Alex Rodriguez’s lawyer William Barzee said in a statement. “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 warrant shows that the investigation began Nov. 11, one day after a Local 10 News story outlined evidence that some state senate candidates in the November election were plants funded by dark money.
In total, investigators found that $44,708.03 was paid by Artiles to Rodriguez “for changing his party affiliation, qualifying as an independent candidate for Senate Seat 37, and attempting to [siphon] votes from the incumbent candidate.”
“These payments were intended to influence the results of the outcome of the election,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in an afternoon news conference.
Alex Rodriguez, 55, told investigators that Artiles, 47, contacted him on May 15, 2020, through Facebook Messenger. They had known each other for over 20 years but hadn’t spoken for about a year.
Rodriguez was living in Boca Raton, far from District 37 in Miami-Dade, but he still owned a home in Palmetto Bay. According to the warrant, the two met at Artiles’ Palmetto Bay home that afternoon where Artiles outlined the scheme for Rodriguez to enter the race to confuse voters and pull votes away from the Democratic candidate.
The warrant shows text message communications between the two.
In a later in-person meeting, investigators allege that Artiles instructed Rodriguez how to fill out a form needed for candidacy, which included Rodriguez using his Palmetto Bay address despite both knowing he didn’t actually live there.
Artiles also guided Rodriguez to officially change his party affiliation from Republican to no party, authorities say.
WATCH A REPLAY OF STATE ATTORNEY NEWS CONFERENCE DISCUSSING ARRESTS:
The warrant also outlines multiple instances of money being paid by Artiles to Rodriguez, including receipts.
Masterminding a sham candidate actually isn’t illegal, but financing one is.
“We are alleging that November’s Florida Senate District 37 election involved crimes,” Fernandez Rundle said.
Where did the nearly $45,000 Artiles allegedly paid Rodriguez come from? Fernandez Rundle said they haven’t gotten to the bottom of that yet, but that the investigation continues.
Investigators served a warrant at Artiles’ home Wednesday, seizing electronics including his cell phone and computer, and the contents of a safe.
Artiles, now a lobbyist, resigned his state senate seat in 2017 after using a racial slur among colleagues and amid reports that a former Hooters calendar girl and a Playboy model with no political experience were hired as “consultants.”
READ THE WARRANT OBTAINED BY LOCAL 10 NEWS: