MIAMI — Prosecutors on Thursday filed new felony charges against Frank Artiles, a Republican operative and former state senator, and Alexis Rodriguez, an auto-parts dealer who authorities say was recruited and paid by Artiles to sway the outcome of a Miami-Dade state Senate race.
The new charges — filed in the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County — expand on a criminal case that accuses Artiles of paying Rodriguez nearly $50,0000 to run as an independent in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race.
The goal of the scheme, prosecutors allege, was to “confuse voters and influence the outcome” of the race to ultimately represent a large swath that includes downtown Miami, Coral Gables and Pinecrest.
Prosecutors are going further, and are now accusing Rodriguez of submitting false voter information that said he lived in Palmetto Bay, though he lived in Boca Raton at the time of the election. Knowingly filing an incorrect address with the state is a third-degree felony.
Artiles is also facing a new third-degree felony for allegedly advising and helping Rodriguez to “willfully submit a false voter registration application” on June 9, 2020, days before Rodriguez qualified to appear on the ballot.
Under state law, those charges carry sentences of up to five years in prison if convicted.
In an arrest warrant last month, investigators said Artiles knew Rodriguez did not live within District 37, and told him to bring identification with an old address within the district as they were figuring out the paperwork. Though Rodriguez once lived in Palmetto Bay, he lived in Boca Raton before the election. He now lives in Delray Beach.
In Florida, candidates must sign an oath that lists their residency, but the oath doesn’t cite the penalties for lying, and no one actively checks to make sure candidates are qualified to run for a given office.
Rodriguez confirmed to a Miami Herald reporter at his Boca Raton home in November that he then lived in Palm Beach County, not Miami-Dade. According to property records, the house in Palmetto Bay was sold to the current owner in 2015.
Last month’s arrest came after members of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Public Corruption Task Force executed a search warrant at Artiles’ Palmetto Bay home.
Both men turned themselves in at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, and were released on bail hours later.
An arraignment for both men is scheduled for Friday, April 16.
Artiles, 47, and Rodriguez, 55, are also charged with three third-degree felony charges related campaign-finance violations. Those include conspiracy to make campaign contributions in excess of legal limits, accepting and making those excess campaign contributions and false swearing in connection to an election.
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An open investigation
The investigation remains open as prosecutors continue to look into the money sources behind mail advertisements that promoted not just Rodriguez’s candidacy, but two other no-party candidates in other Florida Senate races — one in Central Florida, and one in Miami-Dade.
The political mail advertisements were funded by a mystery donor whose address leads to a UPS store in Atlanta.
Rodriguez did not independently campaign outside of the mailers, a scheme that was ultimately successful. GOP candidate Ileana Garcia, a television personality and co-founder of Latinas for Trump, won the race by 32 votes. Rodriguez, who shares a surname with Democrat incumbent José Javier Rodríguez, netted more than 6,000 votes.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has said there is no evidence to suggest Garcia knew of Artiles’ alleged scheme. Garcia told the Herald last month that she has never met Artiles and didn’t know of him until the news broke of his involvement.
Investigators are also looking into the money Artiles used to pay Rodriguez to run in the race.
According to the arrest affidavit, the actual amount Artiles paid Rodriguez before and after the election totaled $44,708. Investigators said Artiles paid Rodriguez in stacks of cash from his home safe.
Investigators also noted in the arrest affidavit that a third party was involved. They have not named the third person, but they said the individual withdrew $9,000 in cash from a Miami bank and gave it to Rodriguez to cover legal fees.