A no-party candidate paid to run a ghost campaign in a South Florida state senate election will testify against a former state lawmaker facing felony charges for allegedly orchestrating a 2020 dark money vote-siphoning scheme that may have spanned several state senate districts.
Alexis Rodriguez, 55, is expected to officially enter into a guilty plea before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Andrea Wolfson on Tuesday and admit that he accepted $45,000 from former state Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, to run as an non-party affiliated (NPA) candidate in November’s Senate District 37 (SD 37).
An auto-parts salesman and acquaintance of the former state senator, Rodriguez didn’t live in SD 37 and ran a shadow campaign – no website, candidate forums, fundraising – while sharing his Democratic opponent’s surname, Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, and the exact name on the ballot, “Alex Rodriquez,” the same as that of the baseball Hall-of-Famer and Miami celebrity.
Ultimately, Alex Rodriguez received 6,300 out of 215,000 ballots cast in a SD 37 runoff won by 32 votes by Sen. Ileana Garcia, who unseated the incumbent Sen. José Javier Rodríguez.
Rodriguez had pleaded not guilty to third-degree felony charges related to his participation, but it is uncertain what he will plead to next week as part of his cooperation in the case against Artiles, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office public-corruption prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen said in accounting the deal.
In April, Rodriguez admitted to the Florida Ethics Commission he violated ethics rules for accepting money to enter a race and filing inaccurate documents. He was fined $6,500.
In a July hearing , Wolfson ordered Artiles stand trial on four third-degree felony charges – conspiracy to make/accept campaign contributions in excess of legal limits, accepting/making excess campaign contributions, false swearing in connection to an election and aiding in false voter information – beginning Aug. 30.
If convicted, Artiles, who served in the Florida House 2010-16 and Senate in 2017 before resigning after directing a racial slur at Black lawmakers, faces five years in prison.
But on Thursday, Woifson granted Artiles’ attorneys request for more time to interview witnesses and review evidence, granting a 60-day continuance and setting a check-in hearing date for Oct. 19.
“Obviously, we are not ready for trial,” Artiles’ attorney Frank Quintero told Wolfson. “We cannot commence taking depositions in this case until the issue with Mr. Rodriguez is resolved.”
Having Rodriguez clearly identified as a “state witness” clarifies Artiles’ defense, Quintero said, because he was “a co-defendant in name only.”
In a case that has launched a broadening probe being nervously watched by Republican campaign organizers, prosecutors allege Artiles orchestrated a ruse to “confuse voters and influence the outcome” in the SD 37 race by recruiting Rodriguez to “siphon votes from the incumbent” because they shared surnames.
The allegations into the SD 37 “ghost” campaign launched a state investigation that now spans at least two more 2020 senate district races, SD 39 and SD 9.
SD 39 NPA candidate Celso Alfonso, 81, told investigators Artiles recruited him in a barbershop.
Like Rodriguez, Alfonso was a Republican but switched to NPA to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Both had the same campaign-finance records and like Rodriguez, he benefited from mailer-blitzes. The SD 39 race won by Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, who defeated Rep. Javier Fernandez, D-South Miami.
The SD 9 race won by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, featured NPA candidate Jestine Iannotti who never campaigned but received $180,000 in support from Grow United, a Delaware-registered corporation behind ‘Proclivity.’ Brodeur defeated Democrat Patricia Sigman with 50.3% of the vote. Iannotti finished with a critical 2%.
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