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Artiles helped a candidate in another 2020 Senate race, records show

Court records detail the relationship between the former Republican state senator and a couple who co-own a day spa he frequented.
Frank Artiles' car as they raid his home in Palmetto Bay on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Frank Artiles' car as they raid his home in Palmetto Bay on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Published Aug. 20, 2021

MIAMI — The former Miami Republican senator who recruited an acquaintance to run in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race was simultaneously guiding another spoiler no-party candidate in Senate District 39.

Frank Artiles, 47, walked 81-year-old NPA candidate Celso Alfonso and his wife, Maricela Cardenas, through the entire election process by giving them campaign filing paperwork to fill out, uploading campaign finance reports using Cardenas’ PIN and login information and even flying to Tallahassee to hand-deliver Alfonso’s qualifying check to the Department of State on June 12, according to Cardenas’ testimony in court records released Thursday.

Artiles faces several felony charges for allegedly recruiting and paying Alexis Pedro Rodriguez nearly $45,000 to run as a no-party candidate in Senate District 37. Rodriguez is expected to enter into a plea agreement Tuesday and testify against Artiles as a witness in the state’s case.

Related: No-party candidate in Miami election fraud case will testify against Artiles

Court records show Artiles’ relationship with Alfonso and Cardenas, who have been married since 2007 and co-own a day spa in Palmetto Bay where Artiles goes weekly to receive various services, like back waxes, eyebrow maintenance and facials. The couple met Artiles as a client, who eventually became a friend.

“He’s the one that helped us, guided us through this whole thing,” Cardenas told investigators in a sworn deposition in December. She was the registered treasurer of her husband’s campaign account.

Like Rodriguez, Alfonso reported a $2,000 loan to himself on his first campaign finance report and did no real campaigning but was featured in advertisements paid for by the same dark-money group — Grow United — that spent nearly half a million dollars on advertisements appealing to progressive ideals in an apparent effort to shave votes from Democratic candidates.

When investigators searched Artiles’ home in March, they found Artiles had kept a manila folder containing campaign documents related to Alfonso.

‘Always wanted to run for office’

Cardenas said her husband, a lifelong Republican, has always wanted to run for office, and at 81 years old, he wanted to fulfill his lifelong dream. She said he changed his party affiliation to no party so he wouldn’t have to run in a primary.

Alfonso “really didn’t have any plans of winning the campaign,” according to Cardenas, but he still wanted to make into onto a ballot.

“One day, my husband told me, ‘Frank said I’m able to do this and I kind of want to,’” she said. “It made him happy. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

Cardenas signed up to be the treasurer of the campaign account, and transferred money from the couples’ shared Chase bank account into a campaign account with Wells Fargo. Artiles wasn’t there when they set the account up, she said, but she called him frequently for advice.

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“Every time I had a question about the paperwork, you know, anything that I needed to ask,” she said.

In the summer, Artiles took the check with him to Tallahassee, where he filed it with the Department of State. He did the same for Rodriguez’s filing check, and billed top GOP consultant Pat Bainter for the plane ticket.

Related: Artiles worked with GOP firm Data Targeting on Senate races

Cardenas insisted to investigators that Artiles did not come up with the idea for Alfonso to run for office, and that no money was promised or exchanged related to the election. She said, however, there were conversations she was not privy to, where her husband and Artiles talked politics. Her husband has never run for office before.

According to bank records, Artiles’ consulting company made payments of $80 and $75 to Cardenas in February 2020 and again in September.

Alfonso used to work at a freight company but for the last four years, has driven for Uber. The family’s net worth is $31,691.

‘Welcome to my world’

After media reports about the mysterious candidates, Cardenas met with Artiles a few times when he came to her salon. She expressed her concerns about what was being said about her husband, and Artiles assured her nothing bad would happen.

“He said, ‘Listen, you guys didn’t do anything wrong … It’s just that’s the way it is,’” Cardenas said. “‘Welcome to my world.’”

She said she met with him again before her deposition, where he gave her paper campaign finance records to review ahead of time, since she doesn’t know how to access them on a computer.

She said he had previously advised Cardenas to hire an attorney.

“This is a dream he had … my husband is very stubborn, when he wants to do something he does it,” she said. “And it’s cost us hell.”

Rodriguez, who is scheduled to enter a plea agreement Tuesday, is expected to serve as a witness for the state during Artiles’ trial, said Tim VanderGiesen, a public-corruption prosecutor in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

The trial, which was slated to begin Aug. 30, has been postponed. Circuit Judge Andrea Wolfson granted a 60-day continuance on Thursday.