Frank Artiles, a former Republican senator from Florida, has been charged with campaign finance violations related to a senate race conducted last year. The 47-year-old was elected to the Senate in 2016 but forced to resign a year later in 2017 after it was found that he used racist slurs against Black senators, including the n-word.
Artiles is currently charged with three criminal counts involving a sham candidate to siphon off votes from an opposing Democrat candidate. After investigators from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office searched his home, Artiles turned himself in the next day. According to the arrest warrant, Artiles paid $45,000 to 55-year-old Alex Rodriguez, an auto parts dealer, to run as an independent in the Miami-Dade state senate race last year.
Alex Rodriguez has the exact last name as the Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez. The aim was to confuse voters and reduce votes received by the incumbent. The election was eventually won by Republican Ileana Garcia, who was pitted against Javier by a narrow 32 votes.
Alex received over 6,000 votes. In addition to Artiles, Rodriguez is also charged with violating state election laws. Attorney William Barzee, who represents candidate Rodriguez, accused Artiles of taking advantage of his client.
“Frank Artiles and his co-conspirators knew they couldn’t beat Jose Javier Rodriguez in a fair election, so they rigged it. 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,” Barzee told CNN. Greg Chonillo, Artiles’ defense attorney, stated that his client has been cooperating with the investigators and is planning to “fully defend” all court charges.
At a news conference, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle revealed that Artiles had reached out to Alex Rodriguez via Facebook to discuss running in the election. The two have known each other for around two decades.
Alex was facing financial difficulties when Artiles contacted him with the offer. Artiles changed Alex’s party affiliation to independent from Republican, offered him $2000 to open a campaign bank account, and filed his campaign paperwork with the elections department.
During the election season, he was paid $45,000 by Artiles in several installments ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. Investigators do not know the origin of the money and are also looking at who paid for the political mail ads that promoted Alex’s candidacy.
‘Not a crime in Florida’
Attorney Rundle said that there was no evidence to suggest Garcia had any knowledge of Artiles’ actions. A spokeswoman for Garcia noted that the newly elected senator has never even met Artiles. Rundle points out that running a ghost candidate like Rodriguez is not seen as a crime in the state of Florida.
“These things are not crimes. Is it an attack on our democracy? Is it a dirty political trick? Absolutely. This kind of trick is always used against an existing office-holder. It’s to confuse the public… What is a crime is making illegal campaign contributions to get a candidate to run…”
“Sadly, Frank Artiles knew he could manipulate Florida’s election system, that is the most blatant aspect of this dirty election trick, but as I said, it is not a crime in Florida,” Rundle said at a news conference.