Artiles, Rodriguez plead not guilty on charges related to no-party candidate scheme

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Samantha J. Gross
·3 min read
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Former Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial Friday in a high-profile public corruption case that will play out in the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami.

Artiles, whose lawyers had submitted his written plea ahead of time, is facing several felony charges for allegedly recruiting and paying Alexis Pedro Rodriguez, an auto-parts dealer and longtime acquaintance, to run as a no-party candidate in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race.

The goal of the scheme, prosecutors allege, was to “confuse voters and influence the outcome” of the race to ultimately represent a large swath of Miami-Dade that includes downtown Miami, Coral Gables and Pinecrest.

Artiles and Rodriguez have been charged with four third-degree felony charges related to the scheme. Those include conspiracy to make or accept campaign contributions in excess of legal limits, accepting and making those excess campaign contributions, false swearing in connection to an election and aiding in (and eventually, submitting) false voter information.

Under state law, those charges carry sentences of up to five years in prison if convicted.

Rodriguez also entered a written plea of not guilty.

Both men turned themselves in to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami on March 18 and were released hours later.

Neither Artiles nor Rodriguez was present at the hearing, which took place over Zoom and lasted less than 10 minutes.

One of Artiles’ defense attorneys, Frank Quintero, said, “We are looking forward to our day in court.”

“We are going to be pleading not guilty, and Mr. Artiles is looking forward to proving his innocence,” he told the Miami Herald Wednesday.

Both parties will return to court June 1 to set a trial date. The state attorney’s office is in the process of making copies of its evidence for Artiles and Rodriguez.

Jose Quiñon, who is also representing Artiles, told Judge Andrea Wolfson on Friday that he objects to evidence being released to Rodriguez that is private in nature, such as cloned versions of the computers taken from Artiles’ home during a search last month.

Artiles’ attorneys said Rodriguez may be a co-defendant “in name only.”

“We sense that the co-defendant is cooperating or struck a deal,” Quiñon said. “If in fact there is a deal already done or in the process of being done, it is important because it will affect Mr. Artiles’ rights. Some of the information from the computers is rather private in nature.”

Rodriguez’s attorney, William Barzee, was not present at the hearing and declined to comment.

Many unanswered questions

While prosecutors have charged Artiles and Rodriguez, the investigation is still open and there are many lingering questions about whether the case could expand to other 2020 Florida Senate races that also featured mysterious no-party candidates.

Investigators are also looking at the money behind more than half a million dollars in political mail pieces that advertised the other no-party candidates — one in Central Florida, and one in Miami-Dade. The money has so far been untraceable, as have portions of the nearly $50,000 investigators say Artiles paid Rodriguez.

Prosecutors have yet to name a third person who is accused in the arrest warrant of withdrawing $9,000 from a bank to give to Rodriguez.