Sham candidate enters plea to testify against ex-state Sen. Artiles

Testimony will ‘shed light on the dirty election tricks used to steal our democracy,’ state attorney says

After pleading guilty and apologizing, Alex Rodriguez is now prosecutors' key witness in the case against a former state senator accused of concocting and funding a scheme to fool Miami-Dade County voters in the November election.

MIAMI – Admitted shill candidate Alex Rodriguez entered a plea deal Tuesday in exchange for his testimony in the case against former Florida Sen. Frank Artiles, who is accused of masterminding the rigging of state senate elections.

Rodriguez apologized in court for his role in the scheme after pleading guilty to accepting illegal campaign donations and lying on campaign documents. The deal calls for him to serve 36 months of probation, and he was fitted Tuesday for a GPS ankle monitor.

“I’m sorry for my actions,” he said. “I want to apologize to my family, my loved ones, my friends. And I would like to publicly offer a sincere apology to the residents of Florida District 37, including the former Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, to the people of Miami-Dade County, the state of Florida, and anyone else who was affected or harmed by my actions.”

Rodriguez can cut down his probation from three years to one if he provides everything he promises to against Artiles. Without the deal, entered before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Andrea Wolfson, Rodriguez was facing a possible 20 years in prison.

Artiles is accused of offering to pay Rodriguez $50,000 to run as a non-party affiliated candidate against incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez and Republican Ileana Garcia in the state senate race for District 37 last November.

More than 6,000 votes were cast for Alex Rodriguez, a deep-in-debt auto parts dealer with no political aspirations who was actually living in Boca Raton, not Miami-Dade County where the district is located. The close margin between Jose Javier Rodriguez and Garcia triggered a recount, and Garcia won the seat by just 32 votes.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office has said there is no evidence to suggest Garcia was involved or had any knowledge of the shill being planted in the race.

Artiles is the big fish in the case, the alleged mastermind and money man.

“The credibility and integrity of every vote is the foundation upon which our democracy is based,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement Tuesday. “Alexis Rodriguez’ plea agreement today relating to his recruitment as a ‘fake’ candidate in Florida’s Senate District 37 election is an important step in the effort to restore honesty to Florida’s election process which has been tarnished too long by almost invisible, independent and write-in candidates.

“Mr. Rodriguez’ critical testimony will shed light on the dirty election tricks used to steal our democracy and is the price he is paying for helping rob our community of its right to honest representation.”

Frank Artiles (left) and Alex Rodriguez

Artiles and Rodriguez were charged in March. The two have been charged with four felonies and Artiles has pleaded not guilty.

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.

Rodriguez told investigators that Artiles 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, 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.

Investigators say that in a later in-person meeting, 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 change his party affiliation from Republican to no party, authorities say.

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.”

Alex Rodriguez got probation in the plea deal he entered Tuesday. He's accused of helping a former state senator deceive voters in an election last November.

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."