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Search warrant: Former Florida state senator had paperwork for no-party candidate in second Miami state Senate race

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 4/9/2021 Samantha J. Gross and Ana Ceballos, Miami Herald
a man sitting on a bench in front of a building: Frank Artiles in Palmetto Bay, Fla., on March 17, 2021. © Pedro Portal, TNS/The Daytona Beach News-Journal/TNS Frank Artiles in Palmetto Bay, Fla., on March 17, 2021.

MIAMI — Former Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles was in possession of campaign documents of two spoiler no-party candidates who ran in separate, competitive Miami-Dade state Senate races in 2020, according to a 38-page search warrant obtained Thursday by the Miami Herald.

Artiles, 47, is facing multiple felony campaign finance related charges in connection with recruiting and paying an alleged spoiler candidate with the goal of swaying the outcome of Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race.

One other Miami-Dade state Senate race also featured a spoiler candidate — Celso Alfonso — who ran in the contentious District 39 race that pitted two state House members against one another to replace term-limited Republican Anitere Flores.

The search warrant’s inventory, which included a long list of electronics, financial documents and handwritten notes, showed that Artiles had kept a manila folder containing campaign documents related to Alfonso. He also had a folder related to no-party candidate Alexis "Alex" Rodriguez in Senate District 37. Rodriguez is facing similar campaign finance charges.

The 2020 election cycle drew three mysterious no-party candidates in contentious and expensive Senate races — Districts 37 and 39 in Miami-Dade and District 9 in Central Florida — all won by Republicans. The candidates did no independent campaigning, had little to no public profiles, and their candidacies were all bolstered by similarly designed political mail advertisements that were paid for by $550,000 in untraceable funds.

Alfonso’s candidacy shared similarities to Rodriguez’s:

—Both candidates’ email addresses were Gmail accounts with identical patterns: first initial, last name, district number and “2020.”

—They also had identical campaign finance records, both only reporting $2,000 loans to themselves, and using the money to pay for the $1,187.88 filing fee required of no-party candidates for state Senate.

—Both Rodriguez and Alfonso were registered Republicans when they voted in the 2018 midterm elections.

—Both Rodriguez and Alfonso qualified for the 2020 election on the same day, with checks hand-delivered in Tallahassee and time-stamped within minutes of one another.

A third no-party candidate also benefited from the mailers — Jestine Ianotti — who ran in District 9.

While probing the case, investigators said they found Artiles flew to Tallahassee to hand-deliver Rodriguez’s check and paperwork at the Florida Division of Elections.

Alfonso has not been named or charged in the investigation into Artiles and Alex Rodriguez. The Herald could not determine whether Alfonso is also under investigation. Alfonso received 3,639 votes out of 222,330 votes cast in the District 39 race, which Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez won with 55% of the vote.

Ana Maria Rodriguez said Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee that Artiles’ being in possession of Alfonso’s treasurer report “is all very shocking to me.”

“I don’t know the candidate. I don’t really talk to Frank, so I don’t know anything about this,” she said. “This is all very interesting how the developments are shaping along.”

She added that state investigators have not reached out to her.

Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, has been charged with multiple felonies. One charge, filed Thursday, alleges he lied about his address on official campaign and voter registration documents. An additional felony charge was also filed against Artiles on Thursday.

Rodriguez, who shares a surname with losing Democrat incumbent José Javier Rodríguez, netted more than 6,000 votes in an election decided by just 32.

GOP candidate Ileana Garcia, a television personality and co-founder of Latinas for Trump, won the race.

Artiles is accused of recruiting and paying nearly $50,000 to Alex Rodriguez. State prosecutors are still investigating the origins of the money and have not named a third person who is accused of withdrawing $9,000 from a bank to give to Alex Rodriguez.

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