Florida ethics panel recommends $20k fine for sham candidate

Oct 27, 2021, 3:03 AM | Updated: 3:05 pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A state ethics panel has recommended that a sham candidate for the Florida Legislature convicted of participating in a vote siphoning scheme in last year’s election be fined $20,000 and formally reprimanded.

The Florida Commission on Ethics announced Wednesday that Alex Rodríguez had reached a settlement with the commission last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t immediately say whether he would accept the recommendation that he issue the reprimand.

In a separate criminal case filed in Miami-Dade circuit court, Rodríguez pleaded guilty in August to accepting illegal campaign donations and lying on campaign documents. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Rodríguez agreed to testify against former Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles. Rodríguez will receive three years probation if he cooperates, including a year of house arrest. He had faced a possible 20-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors charged Artiles in March with felony campaign fraud charges, saying he secretly gave more than $44,000 to Rodríguez so that he could run in the 2020 election to confuse voters and siphon ballots from then-Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez. The funds allegedly came from a dark money source. Artiles has pleaded not guilty.

Alex Rodríguez, a 55-year-old auto parts salesman with no political experience, ran as an independent in the three-way race in Miami-Dade County, drawing 6,000 votes. The Florida Senate District 37 race was won by Republican Ileana García by just 32 votes. She is not implicated in the scheme.

Artiles’ attorney, Frank Quintero, has said that his client denies doing anything illegal. He accused investigators of trying to secretly use Rodríguez as an “agent for the state” against Artiles.

Artiles, who represented a Miami-area district, is no stranger to controversy.

In 2017, he resigned from the Florida Senate after using racial slurs in a conversation with two Black legislators in a Tallahassee bar. Then it was revealed that Artiles used money from his political committee to hire a former Playboy model and Hooters girl as a consultant.

Before that, Artiles, a Cuban-American, served three terms in the state House from a Miami-Dade district. He was then elected to the Senate before his resignation.

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Florida ethics panel recommends $20k fine for sham candidate