Felony Charges Against Former Sen. Frank Artiles Prompt Florida Dems To Call For New Senate Election; Republicans Say No – CBS Miami

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami / NSF) – Florida Democrats are calling for a senator’s resignation and a special election after a prosecutor charged a former Republican lawmaker with fraud related to a gauzy race in Miami-Dade County last year.

Miami-Dade County Prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle filed a crime charge against former Senator Frank Artiles on Thursday for allegedly recruiting an old pal and paying nearly $ 45,000 to win the November election between the upset former Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez and Republican challenger Ileana Garcia.

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Garcia defeated Rodriguez by 32 votes, while the similarly named Alex Rodriguez – who was designed by Artiles and ran as an Independent – received more than 6,000 votes. The bogus candidate neither lived in the district nor did he fight for the seat.

Rundle, who said Thursday the investigation into electoral fraud was ongoing, said there was no evidence that Garcia was part of Artiles’ alleged plot to “confuse voters and siphon off votes” by the incumbent Democrat.

But the leaders of the state’s Democratic Party called for Garcia to step down after the current legislative term, which ended on Jan.

Garcia’s “victory is clearly tainted and will forever tarnish your service in the Senate, let alone the entire Florida Senate,” Florida Democratic Party chairman Manny Diaz told reporters during a videoconference Friday.

“This type of activity challenges the integrity and fairness of our electoral process,” he said.

Announcing the charges against Artiles and Alex Rodriguez on Thursday, Rundle said that conducting a “ghost campaign” was against American democracy, but not the law. The charges against the two men are related to campaign funding violations.

The Republican-controlled Senate has a process that could lead to the removal of one of its members, but Senate President Wilton Simpson stands with Garcia.

In a prepared statement made available to Florida Intelligence, Garcia and Simpson said Garcia was certified as the winner of the Senate District 37 race by the state canvassing commission.

The Senate statement noted that Rundle said Garcia was not involved in the alleged crimes.

“Senator Garcia has the full support of President Simpson as she continues to serve her constituents,” the senators’ statement said. “President Simpson and Senator Garcia fully support the ongoing law enforcement efforts as the investigation into this matter continues.”

Artiles, a die-hard US Navy veteran whose cheeky demeanor earned him the nickname “Frank the Tank” during his tenure in the legislature, resigned from the Senate in 2017 after a racist and profane tirade in a private club.

Artiles orchestrated the “ghost campaign” to evict the Democrat, according to an arrest affidavit detailing what Alex Rodriguez told investigators.

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The affidavit said Artiles contacted Alex Rodriguez, who moved to Boca Raton from Miami-Dade County in May, and offered to pay him $ 50,000 to run as a third-party candidate in the Miami-Dade race . Alex Rodriguez agreed, and Artiles told him to switch his voter registration from Republican to Independent.

Artiles gave Alex Rodriguez the paperwork to submit him as a candidate, directed him to use an old Palmetto Bay address that was still on his driver’s license, and gave him $ 2,000 to open a bank account for the campaign. After the account was opened, Artiles allegedly rushed to Tallahassee to file the paperwork with the state electoral department.

On several occasions, Alex Rodriguez asked for money from Artiles for “business” transactions, and Artiles allegedly gave him between $ 3,000 and $ 5,000. Artiles pulled the money out of a safe in his home office and asked for 30 percent of the profit Alex Rodriguez made on the business.

Once, Alex Rodriguez asked Artiles to pay his child’s Catholic school fees. Artiles paid $ 6,798.39 to the school using his credit card. In total, Artiles gave Alex Rodriguez nearly $ 45,000, the affidavit said.

While demanding Garcia’s resignation and new elections, Democrats said Friday investigators need to find out who is behind the money Artiles gave to Alex Rodriguez.

“The public has a right to know if this is a one-off event,” said Diaz. “As a self-proclaimed Republican agent, is this the work of a single villain acting alone in the case of Mr. Artiles, or was he acting under the direction of his leaders? Where did he get the $ 40,000 from? By the way, how many of us have safes at home? Better still, how many of us have stacks of cash in our homes? This is a very serious problem. “

Senate minority leader Gary Farmer, who joined Diaz in the call, said the alleged misconduct in the Senate race was an indication of a pattern of misconduct in the Florida elections. He called on lawmakers to look into funding dark money campaigns during the legislative period.

“Our dial code doesn’t provide an automatic solution, and that’s pretty amazing when you think about it,” Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, told reporters. “You’d think it should really be a matter of course that there would be a new election, but that’s not currently the case under our electoral laws.”

Farmer pointed out that Republican lawmakers are moving forward with an election package that would make it difficult for Floridians to vote by postal vote, although the state elections last year went smoothly and no widespread fraud at the state or state level was found.

“So now we have evidence of real fraud, real fraud, fraud that is proven in the form of evidence in the facts of this warrant,” he said. “What are our Republican colleagues going to do now, forced with evidence of fraud that clearly influenced the outcome of a 32-vote election? … We need our Republican colleagues who stand up and say: you know what, no matter what jersey you wear, elections have to be fair and free from fraud. “

Farmer noted that text messages included on the affidavit of arrest indicated that Artiles did not appear to be acting alone and that at least one other unidentified person was involved in the alleged fraud.

The state’s campaign finance laws allow a “Byzantine network of funders” to operate in the shadows and keep the identities of the bad actors secret, Farmer said.

“This is nothing new. It’s been like that for a long time, ”he said.

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(© 2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. Do not publish, broadcast, rewrite, or redistribute this material. Dara Kam, Florida News Service contributed to this report.)

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