A former Florida state senator has been arrested and accused of violating state election laws related to his alleged support of a bogus candidate in a legislative race.
Frank Artiles, 47, was booked into a Miami-Dade jail Thursday on multiple charges, including false swearing in connection with voting or elections, making or receiving two or more campaign contributions in excess of the limits, and conspiracy to make or receive two or more campaign contributions in excess of the limits, all third-degree felonies, records showed.
The alleged sham candidate, 55-year-old Alexis Pedro Rodriguez, faces the same charges.
The news comes a day after boxes of material were taken out of Artiles' Palmetto Bay home during a police raid Wednesday.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Artiles helped to plant Alex Rodriguez as a candidate in a Miami-area state Senate race to defeat the Democratic incumbent last year, offering to pay him $50,000 to run for the position.
The District 37 race was won by Republican Ileana Garcia by just 32 votes over Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez in the 2020 election out of about 215,000 votes cast. Alex Rodriguez, an auto parts dealer, ran as a non-party candidate and has the same last name as the Democrat.
Fernandez Rundle said Artiles reached out to Alex Rodriguez through Facebook Messenger about running for the position in May 2020. The two had known each other for about 20 years, and Alex Rodriguez said he was experiencing dire financial difficulties, Fernandez Rundle said.
Artiles helped Alex Rodriguez, who was living in Boca Raton, to falsify qualifying paperwork, using an old driver's license that reflected Rodriguez's old Palmetto Bay address, Fernandez Rundle said.
"Running a ghost candidate like Alex Pedro Rodriguez is not a crime in Florida," Fernandez Rundle said. "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."
Artiles had Rodriguez change his party affiliation from Republican to Independent, gave Rodriguez $2,000 to open a campaign bank account, then flew to Tallahassee to file Rodriguez's campaign paperwork with the state's department of elections, Fernandez Rundle said.
Over the course of the election season, Artiles gave almost $45,000 to Alex Rodriguez, Fernandez Rundle said.
"What is a crime is making illegal campaign contributions to get a candidate to run," Fernandez Rundle said. "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."
Fernandez Rundle said there was no indication that Garcia was part of the alleged plot.
Artiles bonded out of jail Thursday night, telling reporters he had no comment. Attorney information wasn't available.
Alex Rodriguez left jail Thursday afternoon without speaking with reporters.
In 2017, the Republican Artiles resigned from the state Senate after using racial slurs in a conversation with two Black legislators in a Tallahassee bar. Then it was revealed Artiles used money from his political committee to hire a former Playboy model and Hooters girl as a consultant.
Artiles served three terms in the state House from a Miami-Dade district and then was elected to the Senate before his resignation. Before that, he served in the Marine Corps.