Former Florida GOP state senator Frank Artiles has been arrested for his role in a scheme to fund a bogus NPA candidate that helped siphon votes away from the Democrat in a state senate race last year.
The contest featured incumbent Democrat Jose Rodriguez falling to his GOP challenger Ileana Garcia by a razor-thin 32 vote margin. Alex Rodriguez, the ‘no party affiliation’ candidate who shares the same last name as the Democrat, is a little known auto-parts dealer who captured more than 6,000 votes despite doing zero campaigning.
The arrest warrant states that the actual amount paid by Artiles to Alex Rodriguez before and after the election totaled $44,708.03. Fernandez Rundle said investigators “don’t know the origin” of the money. But court records say Artiles would repeatedly grab stacks of cash — ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 — from his home safe and give them to Rodriguez.
Artiles is in particularly hot water as the NPA candidate, facing charges of his own, has flipped on his former friend and is cooperating with the government’s case…
“Frank Artiles and his co-conspirators knew they couldn’t beat José Javier Rodríguez in a fair election so they rigged it,” said William Barzee, an attorney representing the no-party candidate. “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.”
José Javier Rodríguez, the Democratic incumbent, told the Herald on Thursday that the arrest represented, above all, the harm to voters who went into the voting booth and saw a name of a candidate who never intended to serve.
“This is the harm that was done to voters,” the South Miami Democrat said, warning that this scheme may be replicated in other states or in other Florida elections. “These tactics are not new, but the brazenness is unprecedented.”
Last year, the Herald reported Artiles had recruited and boasted about planting Rodriguez in the race.
“That is me, that was all me,” Artiles told a crowd at Liam Fitzpatrick’s restaurant in Lake Mary, where state Sen. Jason Brodeur was holding his election night party, according to a person who was there and who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.
Investigators also continue to look into who paid for deceptive political mail advertisements that boosted Rodriguez’s candidacy and no-party candidates in two other key Florida Senate races.
According to the Miami Herald, Artiles and Alex Rodriguez are now facing third-degree felony campaign finance charges connected to illegal campaign contributions and false swearing in connection with voting or elections, which carry sentences of up to five years if convicted.
While this might sound something like the plot of a not very good Hollywood movie, shill candidates running with third parties and independents do real harm. Every proven instance of fraud of this kind helps to discredit legitimate, hard-working candidates operating outside of the two major parties.