Florida Republican charged with hiring ‘ghost candidate’ with same name as Democrat to eke out victory

State Democratic Party presses for Justice Department investigation and ‘immediate’ resignation of GOP victor

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 20 March 2021 14:49
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A Republican former state lawmaker in Florida has been charged with paying an associate to mount a fake candidacy to run against a similarly named Democratic candidate to spoil a 2020 election.

Frank Artiles, who resigned from his state senate seat in 2017, was charged on 18 March by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for allegedly enlisting a friend with the same last name as a Democratic candidate in a state senate race in south Florida in an effort to siphon votes from the Democrat to ensure a Republican victory.

The Republican in the race, Ileana Garcia – a staunch supporter of former president Donald Trump – narrowly won that race by only 32 votes of the more than 215,000 cast.

Alexis Rodriguez, the fraudulent candidate, received more than 6,000 votes.

County prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle accused Mr Artiles of paying nearly $45,000 to “ghost candidate” Mr Rodriguez, who faces identical third-degree felony charges related to campaign finance, conspiracy and election fraud.

“We are alleging these various payments blatantly violated Florida election laws,” Ms Fernandez Rundle told reporters on 18 March. “These payments were intended to influence the outcome of the election.”

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Attorneys for both men say they are cooperating with investigators.

“We will be investigating this matter fully and zealously, representing our client in court against these charges,” said Greg Chonillo, an attorney for Mr Artiles, whose home was raided by police the day before he turned himself into local law enforcement.

Florida’s Democratic Party has urged Ms Garcia to “immediately resign” which would trigger a special election for her replacement. Prosecutors do not believe she was involved with the alleged plot to elect her.

“It is clear that she was not elected in a free and fair manner and the people of Senate District 37 deserve better,” party officials said in a statement on 19 March.

Florida Democrats have also requested an investigation from the US Department of Justice, “as it does not seem like this was a one-off occurrence but a part of a pattern of behavior by Republican operatives in this state.”

The state Senate’s Democratic leader Gary Farmer said in a statement that the “disturbing” allegations raise questions about other election victories that may have been part of an “organised, dark money operation to achieve a desired electoral outcome.”

In a joint statement with Ms Garcia, State Senate President Wilton Simpson said lawmakers support the investigation from law enforcement, and that “Senator Garcia has the full support of President Simpson as she continues to serve her constituents.”

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