Miami judge rules on releasing records in election fraud case

Former state Sen. Frank Artiles will have to turn over texts, bank records and other documents.
Frank Artiles leaves the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami on Thursday, March 18, 2021.
Frank Artiles leaves the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami on Thursday, March 18, 2021.
Published Jan. 28, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Former Florida Sen. Frank Artiles will have to turn over some bank records, credit reports, cell phone communications and other digital documents to be used as evidence in a high-profile corruption case against him, a Miami-Dade circuit judge ruled on Friday.

The files, which are part of the discovery in a wide-ranging criminal case involving dark money and a “ghost” candidate in a Miami election, will be limited to anything produced between Jan. 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021. That time period expands beyond when investigators have alleged Artiles paid a no-party candidate more than $40,000 to run and sway the outcome of the state Senate District 37 election.

Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan said she was granting in part and denying in part a motion from Artiles’ lawyers to block a substantial trove of documents that could shed light on whether or not Artiles recruited and paid Alexis Pedro Rodriguez to change his party affiliation from Republican to no-party to “confuse voters” in a 2020 election.

By limiting the time period of the communication, the judge said she would also be limiting the exposure of some third-party members who might’ve communicated with Artiles but have no ties to the case and have a right to remain private, an issue that Artiles’ lawyers argued in their motion to block the release of the documents.

The devices that investigators have in their possession include two MacBook Pros and an iPad air.

Fajardo Orshan said Artiles will have until Feb. 15 to make third parties aware that their information could become public if they communicated with Artiles during that time period. The third parties will then have until March 1 to file their objections if they have any privacy concerns.

“I don’t want to limit the public’s right to the records,” said Fajardo Orshan, leaving the door open for prosecutors with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office to prove they have a need to expand the disclosure period if they think they have evidence that doesn’t fall between those dates.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigation has been sprawling and has roped in prominent players in Florida politics, including dark-money groups tied to powerful corporate donors, as investigators try to uncover the money sources that, they say, played a role in the election scheme.

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

Investigators say Artiles grabbed stacks of cash — ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 — from his home safe and gave them to Rodriguez. But the origins of the money have not been identified, at least not publicly.

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While Fajardo Orshan proposed having closed proceedings to discuss third parties’ privacy concerns, Dana McElroy, an attorney for the Miami Herald and other media companies, objected to that approach and advocated for an open hearing.

“I don’t have an objection with corporate clients, I don’t have an objection to businesses. I think my objection is there’s a lot of files there that deal with, for the sake of this discussion, Jane Smith. Jane Smith is a private person in our society that maybe thought about running for office, or consulted about running for office, but never was a public figure,” Fajardo Orshan explained.

Frank Quintero, an attorney for Artiles, said limiting the time period of the evidence would help them narrow the communication from third parties.

Fajardo Orshan also said that any records found on the iPhone 12 Pro that is in possession of Miami-Dade investigators must exclude any communication between Artiles and his wife or his daughters, and must also exclude them from any pictures. She added that there were no relevant records found in a printer and external hard drive that were also part of the investigation.

Artiles’ attorneys have filed other protective motions in the past to try to shield records in the case from becoming public, arguing some of the documents infringe on Artiles’ right to a fair trial and violate privacy rights of some of his family members. A similar protective motion was filed by Artiles’ lawyers in May, which was partly granted and denied in other parts. The Miami Herald and other media companies have filed motions to intervene.

The next hearing in the case is tentatively scheduled for March 2 at 1:30 p.m.

Artiles, 48, is facing several felony charges for allegedly recruiting and paying Rodriguez, an auto-parts dealer and longtime acquaintance, to run as a no-party candidate in Senate District 37 against an incumbent with the same last name in order to confuse voters. Rodriguez is facing similar charges but has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators.