TALLAHASSEE — A state ethics panel on Friday recommended that a no-party candidate be fined $250 for financial disclosure violations, marking the third ghost candidate state authorities have reprimanded in connection to key state Senate races in the 2020 election.
Celso Alfonso, an 81-year-old with a high school education, ran as a no-party candidate in Senate District 39 and failed to disclose he had $1,672 in his bank account when he filed paperwork to run as a no-party candidate because he “misunderstood the instructions,” the Florida Commission on Ethics determined.
Commissioners did not discuss the case beyond the disclosure failure. There was no mention of the role played by former Miami state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who walked Alfonso through the entire election process, including giving him the campaign filing paperwork to fill out and uploading campaign finance reports.
Details of the Alfonso and Artiles connection emerged during a criminal investigation in Miami, in which prosecutors allege Artiles recruited and paid an auto-parts dealer, Alexis Pedro Rodriguez, nearly $45,000 to run as a no-party candidate in Senate District 37.
Alfonso’s wife, Maricela Cardenas, told investigators in sworn testimony last August that Artiles guided them through the election process. Alfonso and Cardenas co-own a day spa in Palmetto Bay. It was there that they met Artiles, who made weekly visits for various services, like back waxes, eyebrow maintenance and facials. The couple said they met Artiles as a client, but they eventually became friends.
Artiles is facing felony charges in connection to the Senate District 37 race. His next court hearing is in November, when attorneys are scheduled to talk about potential dates for a trial next year.
Rodriguez, the no-party candidate connected to the criminal case, was also reprimanded by the Florida Commission on Ethics last October. The panel recommended Rodriguez be fined $20,000, which requires action by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis has made election integrity a key part of his platform. But he has not taken action or commented on the recommendation in 10 months. His office says the “review is ongoing” on that recommendation.
In May, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced criminal charges against a Republican political consultant and a Central Florida sham candidate who ran as a no-party candidate in Central Florida’s Senate District 9. The chairman of the Seminole County Republican Party was convicted last week of charges related to that case.
The Central Florida case is part of a widening political scandal involving the two Miami-Dade state Senate races and dark money groups that paid for political mailers to promote the sham candidate to benefit Republicans in those races.