Frank Artiles

‘Ghost Candidate' Pleads Guilty in Scheme to Siphon Votes in District 37 Race

Alex Rodriguez agreed to be a cooperating witness in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office case against former state senator Frank Artiles.

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The man accused of running as a third-party candidate to siphon votes away from the Democrat opponent in a close state senate race has pled guilty Tuesday.

Alexis Pedro Rodríguez agreed to testify against former Sen. Frank Artiles after pleading guilty in Miami-Dade County to accepting illegal campaign donations and lying on campaign documents. He will receive three years probation if he cooperates, including a year of house arrest. He had faced a possible 20-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors charged Artiles in March with felony campaign fraud charges, saying he secretly gave more than $44,000 to Rodriguez so that he could run in the 2020 election to confuse voters and siphon ballots from then-Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez. The funds allegedly came from a dark money source. Artiles has pleaded not guilty.

Alex Rodríguez, a 55-year-old auto parts salesman with no political experience, ran as an independent in the three-way race in Miami-Dade County, pulling in 6,000 votes. The race was won by Republican Ileana García by just 32 votes. She is not implicated in the scheme.

“I am deeply sorry for my actions and I want to apologize to my family, my loved ones and my friends,” Alex Rodríguez tearfully told the court. “I would like to publicly offer a sincere apology to the residents of Florida District Senate 37 including Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez, the people of Miami-Dade County and the state of Florida, and anyone else who was affected by my actions.”

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in a statement that the guilty plea “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.”

Artiles' attorney, Frank Quintero, said Tuesday that his client denies doing anything illegal. He accused investigators of trying to secretly use Rodriguez as an “agent for the state” against Artiles.

“We are looking forward to deposing him,” Quintero said.

Records show Frank Artiles had an exclusive political contract with Data Targeting, Inc., whose owner is a powerful Republican political operative based in Gainesville. NBC 6's Phil Prazan reports

Court records show Artiles had connections to powerful political operatives with ties to state Republican leadership.

Artiles's trial is currently set for October.

This is a developing story. Check back with NBC 6 for updates.

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