A former lawmaker accused of violating election law was working for a powerful Republican political operative, according to court records released before the case goes to trial.
Prosecutors in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office accuse former Republican state senator Frank Artiles of offering third-party candidate Alex Rodriguez nearly $45,000 to run last November to siphon votes away from the democratic candidate with the same last name.
Rodriguez received more than 6,000 votes in the race between Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez and Republican Ileana Garcia. Garcia won by 32 votes.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
Artiles and Alex Rodriguez now face several felonies for keeping money off campaign finance documents and reporting the wrong home address for Rodriguez. They both have pleaded not guilty.
The public can only see so much about the inner workings of political campaigns. Prosecutors, however, have subpoena power so they can access bank records, personal emails, and text messages. Some of those documents are now open to the public.
Those records show Artiles had an exclusive political contract with Data Targeting, Inc. worth $15,000 per month, totaling $90,000 plus expenses. The owner of Data Targeting, Inc., is Pat Bainter, a powerful Republican political operative based in Gainesville. Over the years, Bainter has helped dozens of Republican members of Congress, state representatives, and state senators get elected. Influence Magazine featured him among the most influential people in the state.
Emails subpoenaed by prosecutors show Artiles was working contested senate districts in Miami-Dade county for Bainter; including keeping tabs on the democratic incumbent in Senate District 37, reporting on who he was having lunch with, and getting reimbursed for “research” and plane tickets. At one point in September, Artiles wrote he was “standing by for orders” from Bainter.
The records show Bainter and his company at this point are cooperating with prosecutors in handing over records. Bainter has not been charged with a crime. NBC 6 reached out to Bainter, Data Targeting, and their attorney for a comment and has not heard back.
A request for comment to Alex Rodriguez’s attorney went unanswered.
State campaign finance records show Bainter’s company is a major player in state politics. In the 2020 cycle, his company made more than $6.9 million working for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the political arm of the Republicans in the state senate.
That committee is chaired by Florida senate president Wilton Simpson. NBC 6 reached out multiple times to the committee and its spokesperson and has not yet heard back.
“Given the players that are involved in this case, it’s going to be a battle,” said longtime criminal defense attorney David Kubiliun with Greenspoon Marder, “This is going to be like a heavy-weight title fight.”
Kubiliun said both Artiles’ lawyer, Frank Quintero, and the prosecution team led by Tim VanderGiesen are diligent and well respected attorneys.
Kubiliun told NBC 6 in such a high-profile case involving the wealthy and powerful, every new detail released to the public will be scrutinized.
“There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny in what is presented and how it’s presented,” Kubiliun said, “They better make sure, whatever their allegations are, they better be able to back them up.”
A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office told NBC 6 they would not be commenting on anything before the trial begins August 30.
Quintero, Artiles’ attorney, also had no comment other than saying in his view the email and contract connection to Bainter have “nothing to do” with the criminal case against Artiles.
Investigators also are looking into what role two political committees played in supporting Rodriguez in the “ghost” candidate scheme. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were moved through those campaign organizations to support Rodriguez and two other third party candidates in the state.
“I think there are a lot more questions that need to be answered. Circumstantially, it doesn’t look great for Artiles. However, there’s no smoking gun in my opinion, just yet,” Kubiliun said.