Records show intricate details of alleged Artiles sham candidate scheme

Frank Artiles is seen walking out of jail in March.

New records released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office in the case against disgraced former senator Frank Artiles and one shill candidate give an intricate look at how the scheme was allegedly funded and connect it to a prominent Republican consulting firm.

The newly released documents show Data Targeting, Inc was subpoenaed by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The company is based in Gainesville and run by Pat Bainter, who the Florida Times-Union called, ”one of Florida’s most influential operatives in GOP politics.”

State election records show dozens of Political Action Committees (PACs) paying the firm during the 2020 election cycle, including the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. That committee’s payments to Data Targeting include “research” on senate races for District 37, 39 and 9. The alleged planted candidate in Central Florida’s District 9 State Senate race is Jestine Iannotti, whose financial support from a PAC 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. The three races had identical contributions and expenditures.

According to the documents, Data Targeting signed an agreement with Atlas Consulting, LLC, the company run by Artiles, in June 2020. In the agreement, Data Targeting was to pay Atlas Consulting $15,000 a month through November of that year.

Artiles was charged in March 2021 along with Alexis Rodriguez, one of the shill candidates he’s accused of planting in the Florida Senate race for District 37. The incumbent Democrat, Jose Javier Rodriguez, lost the race against Republican Ileana Garcia by just 32 votes. More than 6,000 votes had been cast for Alexis Rodriguez. The two have been charged with four felonies and Artiles has pleaded not guilty.

Records released include a June 2020 email, in which Artiles writes to Bainter saying “FYI: Senator for 37 was seen with the Mayor [Raul] Valdes-Fauli in [Café Abbracci] having lunch.” Later, in a September 2020 email, Artiles sent an invoice and stated, “I am standing by for orders. Please remember I have 6 PC’s for independents if needed.”

Two PACs have been connected to the scheme: Our Florida and The Truth. In total, the two PACs were connected to $370,000 in dark money given to fund the shill candidates’ campaigns. Both PACs were started on October 2nd with only one contributor: an untraceable Atlanta Company named Proclivity, which later changed in campaign finance records to Grow United, a Denver-based company.

Hailey DeFilippis, 26, who was the chairperson of The Truth PAC, gave a statement to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office on December 18, 2020. In her statement, DeFilippis details how she became involved in the scheme.

“A friend asked if I wanted to make some money being a chairperson and that’s when he contacted me. Back in September,” DeFilippis stated.

The “he” DeFilippis is referring to is, Alex Alvarado, a Republican strategist based in Tallahassee.

DeFilippis named a high school friend based in Tallahassee as the one setting her up with Alvarado. She says she was told she didn’t have to do anything as chairperson and later the same day, Alvarado reached out to her on the phone. In a later conversation, she says he offered her $1,500 to be the PAC’s chairperson.

DeFilippis said she later got an additional $2,500 after news reports about the scheme began. She says Alvarado gave her the extra money “just for the inconvenience.” DeFilippis told investigators she believed Alvarado was also paying for her attorney, but she wasn’t sure.

Hancock Whitney Bank records for The Truth PAC are also among the documents released by the state attorney’s office. Those records show an incoming wire transfer to the PAC of $100,000 on Oct. 2. On Oct. 5, a check for $80,000 was deposited. Both the wire transfer and the check were from Grow United. On Oct. 5, the money was transferred out to Advance Impression LLC, according to both bank and state campaign finance documents. Alvarado’s stepfather, Luis Rodriguez, owns the company that printed flyers for the shill candidates in Florida Senate races in District 37, 39 and 9.

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.

Both DeFilippis and Alvarado signed bank documents pertaining to the PAC and in an email to the bank, Alvarado wrote that he would be the “Finance Consultant” to the committee and he requested to be a “signer on the account and online admin” since he would be “handling incoming and outgoing checks etc.”

Other documents from the state attorney’s office show Alvarado making an identical request to the same Hancock Whitney bank employee about the Our Florida PAC, whose chairperson was 25-year-old Sierra Olive.

The released documents also contain an interview with Artiles’ brother-in-law, Wade Scales. His interview happened one week after Artiles’ Palmetto Bay home was raided.

During the 40-minute interview, Scales told investigators he handed off $9,000 to Rodriguez after being asked by Artiles to do so. Scales told investigators that he got a phone call from Artiles asking if he could borrow $9,000 and he’d pay $1,000 in interest in two weeks.

“I think he said he was in Tallahassee or somewhere where he couldn’t pick it up himself. He said, but I need you to give it to Alex Rodriguez,” Scales said during the interview.

He went onto say, “Well, you know, I’ve lent Alex money in the past, it’s hard to get it back from him,” Scales said. He told investigators Artiles assured him he would be the one to pay him back.

Scales said Rodriguez was “one of the first guys [he] met” when he moved to Miami after college. Scales said the two had lost touch for several years before seeing each other in 2019 for a University of Miami game against the University of Florida. According to his statement, Scales lent Rodriguez money about 20 years ago and also gave Rodriguez two tickets to the aforementioned football game.

The two, according to Scales, wouldn’t see each other again until the handoff at a bank in Southwest Miami-Dade on Nov. 19, 2020. When the two saw each other, Scales said he withheld $400 from the $9,000 for the football tickets.

Through the interview, Scales said he never asked Artiles or Rodriguez why the money was needed.

“All I know is that Frank needed the money,” Scales stated. “I’ve known my brother-in-law for a long time. I trust him. He said Alex was picking it up for him. That’s all I needed to know.”

Scales said he was reimbursed by Artiles three weeks later.

He said since the shill candidate scheme was reported he spoke to him one more time, “I think one night after a couple of beers at my house, I called him up, hey. How are you doing? He said, fine and the conversation didn’t go anywhere.”

Scales says Artiles came over to watch the Super Bowl at his home and began speaking “about the money and the situation” to which Scales said he responded, “I don’t want to be dragged into this and if you do drag me into this, I’m going to hire an attorney. But you know, I lent you the money. As far as I know I lent you the money. It was [a] loan to you.”

Artiles would call him again a few weeks later, before the raid on his home, according to his statement.

Scales said, “About a month ago, he called me up, he goes, you got a gun safe? I go, yeah. I got a gun safe. And he goes, I’m going to bring my guns over to your house. So he brought over about eight guns. Stored them in my gun safe. Didn’t ask him why. Didn’t say why. And he left.”

About the Authors:

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."