Former state senator Frank Artiles charged in spoiler candidate scheme - CNNPolitics
Category: News & PoliticsVia: sandy-2021492 • one month ago • 25 comments
By: Scott Glover, Curt Devine and Audrey Ash (CNN)
(CNN)A former Florida state senator who resigned in disgrace four years ago was charged Thursday with campaign finance violations related to a hotly contested state Senate race in the 2020 election, authorities said.
Frank Artiles, 47, turned himself in to authorities in Miami one day after his home was searched by investigators with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.
The county's top prosecutor, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, accused Artiles at a news conference on Thursday afternoon of paying an old friend almost $45,000 to mount a fake candidacy intended to illegally sway the election.
Artiles, a Republican operative with a reputation for a foul mouth and sharp elbows, is accused of financing a sham candidate whose candidacy was intended to siphon votes from a legitimate Democratic candidate in a state Senate race in South Florida's 37th District. The candidate has the same last name as then-Democratic incumbent Jose Javier Rodriguez but did not actively campaign for the seat and has since admitted being recruited as a spoiler.
That man, Alexis P. Rodriguez, 55, was also charged in connection with the scheme. Artiles and Rodriguez face identical charges: making or receiving two or more campaign contributions over or in excess of the limits; conspiracy to make or receive two or more campaign contributions over or in excess of the limits and false swearing in connection with voting or elections.
"We are alleging these various payments blatantly violated Florida election laws," Fernandez Rundle said. "These payments were intended to influence the outcome of the election."
The Republican candidate, Ileana Garcia, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, narrowly won the race by just 32 votes.
Fernandez Rundle said there was no evidence that Garcia had any knowledge of the scheme.
A spokeswoman for Garcia said the newly elected senator had never met Artiles. In a text to a CNN reporter shortly before Artiles surrendered, his defense attorney, Greg Chonillo, said his client "has been cooperative since the inception of this investigation as well as during the execution of the search warrant. Due to the nature of the charges and potential litigation, we will not comment on any information related to this matter. We fully intend to defend any charges in Court."
Attorney William Barzee, who represents candidate Rodriguez, told CNN: "Frank Artiles and his co-conspirators knew they couldn't beat Jose Javier Rodriguez in a fair election so they rigged it. 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. Alex Rodriguez deeply regrets allowing himself to be used in this way and hopes that by coming forth with the truth he can help to right these wrongs."
Rodriguez was also taken into custody in connection with the case, a corrections official in Miami-Dade County told CNN.
Questions began swirling last year in Florida media and political circles about the 37th District election, as CNN reported in November.
Even before his arrest, Artiles was a controversial figure in Florida politics. According to the Miami Herald, in 2014 he was secretly recorded referring to Muslims as "hajis," and then later, in 2017, he used the n-word and other derogatory language while speaking to Black Florida senators.
Artiles later apologized for the remarks, the first of two incidents that ultimately forced him to step down as state senator.
CNN's Drew Griffin contributed to this report.
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