Artiles and shill candidate plead not guilty; hints to defense strategy emerge

Artiles’ attorneys want to keep raid evidence from Alex Rodriguez

Former state Sen. Frank Artiles and accused plant candidate Alex Rodriguez entered not-guilty pleas Friday but the legal drama in the case may be just beginning.

MIAMI – Former state Sen. Frank Artiles and Alex Rodriguez, the sham candidate Artiles is accused of masterminding, have entered written not-guilty pleas. Both face four felony charges in an alleged plot to swing the District 37 state senate race in November.

Judge Andrea Wolfson presided over the brief virtual court hearing Friday morning, which neither Artiles nor Rodriguez attended. A prosecutor was on, along with two attorneys representing Artiles.

Artiles’ attorneys want to make sure that any incriminating information found during a March 17 raid of his house is not shared with Rodriguez, who may strike a deal with prosecutors to testify against Artiles.

“The co-defendant, Mr. Rodriguez, is cooperating or struck a deal. We feel that way,” Jose Quinon, an attorney representing Artiles, said during the hearing. “And we know that discovery is going to be given out by the state, and we are putting on the record that we object strenuously to any information that pertains to Mr. Artiles being provided to Mr. Rodriguez at this point.”

Rodriguez’s attorney William Barzee was not at Friday morning’s hearing. However, he told Local 10 News that his client is cooperating with prosecutors but has made no plea deal.

Barzee previously said Artiles “targeted and used a vulnerable ‘friend’” in an effort to rig 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,” Barzee said in a statement last month.

Both men are facing four felony charges:

  • Conspiracy to make or accept campaign contributions higher than legal limits
  • Accepting and making excess campaign contributions
  • False swearing on election documents
  • Submitting false voter information

Conviction carries a prison term of up to five years.

The former state Sen. and a sham candidate he is accused of paying to disrupt a race in November both entered written not guilty pleas.

Rodriguez entered the District 37 race, in which the incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez shared a last name. Alex Rodriguez got over 6,000 votes despite not actually campaigning, and Republican Ileana Garcia won the Miami-Dade district by just 32 votes.

No evidence has pointed to Garcia being involved in the scheme.

Shill candidates are not illegal in Florida, but prosecutors accuse Artiles, now a lobbyist, of paying Rodriguez over $44,000 to run as an independent. Rodriguez allegedly changed his party affiliation and registered for the race using an address where he didn’t actually live, under the guidance of Artiles.

Rodriguez, a deep-in-debt machinery rep, was actually living two counties away in Boca Raton.

Investigators raided Artiles’ house March 17, and he and Rodriguez turned themselves in to authorities the next day to face charges of felony campaign finance crimes.

During the raid, detectives found a safe with cash that prosecutors believe was used in the scheme. They also found a manila folder with information about Celso Alfonso, another candidate that was allegedly planted in another race.

The months-long probe came after Local 10 News uncovered evidence days after the November election indicating that several state Senate candidates were plants funded by dark money.

Artiles 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.”

The next hearing is scheduled for June 1, when they will set a trial date.

ALSO SEE: Florida shill candidate scheme widens to include Rep. Matt Gaetz

About the Authors:

Michael Putney came to Local 10 in 1989 to become senior political reporter and host of "This Week In South Florida with Michael Putney." He is Local 10's senior political reporter.