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State law enforcement reviewing Central Florida Senate race, but no investigation yet

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not comment on the allegations related to the 2020 Senate District 9 race.
In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections, in Doral, Florida.
In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections, in Doral, Florida. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Aug. 24

As investigators continue to probe the details in a key 2020 state Senate race in Miami, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also wading into allegations tied to another state Senate race in Central Florida.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said on Monday that law enforcement officials are “currently reviewing allegations associated with the recent Senate District 9 election” won by Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Sanford.

The state agency is working with the office of Phil Archer, the elected state attorney in Seminole and Brevard counties, Plessinger said. But she declined to comment on the details of the allegations, when the state agency was made aware of them and who is the subject of the allegations.

“We do not have an investigation at this point,” Plessinger wrote in an email, adding that the state agency had “nothing additional to provide at this time.”

The Senate District 9 election garnered attention when two political committees spent more than half a million dollars on mail advertisements that were sent to voters in the Central Florida district and in Senate districts 37 and 39 in Miami-Dade County.

The mailers, paid for by a tax-exempt corporation registered in Delaware, were an apparent attempt to appeal to Democrats by displaying progressive buzzwords, but advertised no-party candidates who did little to no independent campaigning.

Related: Ahead of Frank Artiles trial, top Florida political players scrutinized

The Orlando Sentinel reported in July that Archer previously chose not to investigate a complaint that a mysterious group may have broken election laws during the 2020 state Senate races. Two months later, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office launched its own public corruption probe into the Senate District 37 race.

The Miami probe led to two arrests on charges related to an alleged vote siphoning scheme in which former state senator turned lobbyist Frank Artiles paid an acquaintance about $45,000 to put his name on the ballot.

The acquaintance, auto parts salesman Alexis Rodriguez, is expected to enter into a plea agreement with the state Tuesday, and will testify against Artiles during the trial.

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

The Republican candidate in the race, Sen. Ileana Garcia, won by just 32 votes over incumbent Democrat José Javier Rodríguez. Alexis Rodriguez, who shares a surname with the Democrat, received more than 6,000 votes. Garcia has denied knowing anything about the alleged scheme, and prosecutors have said there is no evidence that shows she knew about it.

In the Central Florida race, decided by 7,644 votes, no-party candidate Jestine Iannotti received 5,787 of them. Iannotti, who worked in Central Florida schools, was in the process of moving to Sweden during the election.

Sigman said she was pleased FDLE is looking at the race.

“The more the evidence is being revealed, it is more and more clear all the time that this was a concerted dark money scheme that stretched across the three Senate races, the two in Miami and ours up here,” she said. “This kind of activity really undermines the integrity of our elections. It deceives voters and it needs to be exposed so it doesn’t continue to go on.”

Brodeur did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brodeur and Artiles are longtime friends and served together in the Florida House. When asked in April if Artiles had helped him in his race, Brodeur texted a Herald reporter: “No.” He also said at the time that he has not been contacted by investigators.

Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Republican who represents the Florida Panhandle, discussed the possibility of planting a no-party candidate on the ballot to help Brodeur with former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, the New York Times reported in April.