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A former Miami lawmaker at the center of a public corruption investigation and two Republican operatives behind dark-money groups had a working relationship from 2017 to 2021 that involved payments to “monitor state and federal legislation to determine its impact on the Hispanic community in Miami-Dade County,” court records released Friday show.
One of the operatives is Tallahassee-based Alex Alvarado, who told the Miami Herald in April that he was responsible for setting up two secretive political committees that paid for misleading mail ads in three competitive state Senate races — two in Miami-Dade County and one in Central Florida.
The other is Ryan Tyson, a prominent GOP pollster who runs the dark-money organization, Let’s Preserve the American Dream, which paid former Miami Sen. Frank Artiles’ Atlas Consultants more than $125,000 for “South Florida research services” dating back to 2017.
Up until 2019, Tyson served as vice president of pro-business lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida, which has denied being involved in the committees.
Alvarado’s committees paid for a deluge of political mail ads that aimed to “confuse” in an apparent effort to shave votes from Democratic candidates. The mailers featured messaging on issues that historically appeal to Democrats and advertised little-known, no-party candidates who had not actively campaigned. The ads urge voters to “cut the strings” from party-backed candidates.
The committees were opened in October 2020. The Truth PC closed two months later in December. Our Florida PC closed in January 2021.
The working relationship between Artiles, Alvarado and Tyson began in 2017, just a few months after Artiles resigned from the state Legislature after using a racial slur in front of his Black colleagues, according to records released Friday by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
The extent of their relationship is outlined in 106 pages of emails subpoenaed by state investigators probing whether Artiles orchestrated a scheme to sway the outcome of the Miami-Dade Senate District 37 election with the help of a no-party candidate Alexis Pedro Rodriguez.
Artiles is accused of recruiting and paying Rodriguez roughly $45,000 to change his party affiliation from Republican to no party to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Both are facing felonies in connection to the scheme, and are scheduled to start trial on Aug. 30.
Rodriguez eventually won 6,000 votes in an election decided by 34. The Republican who ultimately flipped the seat, Latinas for Trump co-founder Ileana Garcia, has not been accused of wrongdoing by prosecutors and Artiles acknowledged in records released Friday that they “never met.”
Newly released records show that Artiles’ Atlas Consulting wrote a $7,000 check in October 2020 to Constantine Capitol, LLC, whose registered agent is listed as the law offices of Alejandro De Varona, a Coral Gables attorney who notarized Alex Rodriguez’s campaign documents in June at a Sergio’s Restaurant parking lot. The check was for “consulting.”
Assisting the no-party candidates
Records also show that Artiles helped another no-party candidate qualify on the 2020 ballot. The candidate, 82-year-old Celso Alfonso, was recruited by Artiles at a barber shop and ran in Senate District 39, won by Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez.
In a July 2019 email titled “Miami Dade Update on Politics,” Artiles wrote Tyson and Alvarado with concerns about the lack of strong Miami-Dade Republicans on the 2020 ticket, and pointed out Senate District 39 as a specific problem area. The emails did not mention Senate District 37 by name.
“The Democratic party will play heavily in the election cycle and the republicans are no where to be seen,” Artiles wrote, while also referring to the county’s non-partisan mayoral race and badly misspelling Daniella Levine Cava’s name.
“The latest from Miami Dade politics is the unholy alliance of Daniel Levin Cava, current commissioner and aspiring Mayoral candidate and a team of female candidates that are anti business, anti industry, progressive, tree hugging crazies,” Artiles wrote in the email. “Mrs. Cava is supporting … [Pinecrest Village Council member Anna] Hochkammer for Senate District 39.”
The last payment to Artiles’ firm from Let’s Preserve the American Dream was November 15, 2020, three days after the Democrat incumbent in Senate District 37 lost in a manual recount.
When reached for comment on Friday, Alvarado denied having any involvement in Artiles’ effort in the Senate races in Miami-Dade.
He said Artiles only provided updates on Miami-Dade politics to Let’s Preserve the American Dream. When asked if the information was used to open up the political committees that paid for the misleading mailers in October 2020, he said “no.”
In April, Alvarado told the Miami Herald that no one hired him to set up the political committees to bolster the key Senate races, and that it was a “business venture.”
“This is an independent expenditure effort. Per law, there was no coordination with these candidates and especially not with anyone who may or may not have recruited them,” Alvarado said in a text message to the Herald.
Tyson said via text message, “LPAD [Let’s Preserve the American Dream] had a relationship with Senator Artiles since his departure from the Florida Legislature for his insights on the issues affecting the region. LPAD terminated its relationship with Senator Artiles after his indictment by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office. LPAD was and remains committed to complying with all applicable federal, state, and local laws.”
AIF, whose headquarters in Tallahassee were used on bank records as the mailing address for the political committees Alvarado set up, denied any involvement with the political mail advertising effort.
“AIF has no involvement in these political committees. We have numerous tenants in our building, all of which receive mail at our address,” AIF said in a statement, provided by its spokeswoman, Sarah Bascom.
The PAC man
Alvarado has not been charged in the case but was considered “a possible subject of the investigation” as of December, according to Tim VanderGeisen, a public corruption attorney in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office.
As part of the probe, investigators are also searching for the source of more than half a million dollars spent on the political mail advertisements that promoted no-party candidates.
Alvarado has told the Miami Herald that his main job during the election cycle involved setting up two political committees — Our Florida and The Truth — which were used to pay for those mail advertisements promoting no-party candidates in Central Florida’s Senate District 9, and Miami-Dade’s Districts 37 and 39.
To set up the committees, Alvarado recruited two young women with no known political experience, whom he met through mutual friends. The women, Hailey DeFilippis and Sierra Olive, agreed to put their names down as the chairs of one political committee each.
DeFilippis told investigators the deal was she would be paid $1,500 to chair the committee, according to a transcript of her deposition released last week. When reporters started calling her, she said Alvarado paid her $2,500 more for her “inconvenience,” records show.
One committee chair ‘panicked’ about her role
Dozens of text messages released Friday paint an emotional behind-the-scenes picture of what the women went through as they carried out the task. One of them said she wouldn’t have done the job for the money if she knew the turmoil that would follow, even though she was pregnant and needed the extra cash.
“I am panicking again,” DeFilippis wrote in a text to Alvarado. “I have a bad feeling about this idk [I don’t know] what is going on or if something was done wrong and will be pinned on me.”
In her deposition to investigators with the state attorney’s office public corruption unit, DeFilippis testified that she didn’t know anything of the scheme to influence the 2020 election.
Emails reveal the women had essentially no involvement in the operation of the political committees. They sent pictures of their driver’s licenses to Alvarado, who forwarded the information to Hancock Whitney private banker Jill Adkins, who set up the accounts for each political committee.
Alvarado requested to be added as a signer and an online administrator on the committees’ accounts“... since I will be handling incoming and outgoing checks etc.,” he wrote in an email to Adkins.
Both women texted back and forth with Alvarado heading into the 2020 election, sending him pictures of the forms they signed to register as the agents of the political committees.
Alvarado reminded them where to sign, and ensured them that their status as political committee chairs wouldn’t affect their taxes.
After the election, Alvarado had to calm down the women as they were contacted by investigators with the state attorney’s office and reporters. In one text from DeFilippis to Alvarado, she sent him a screenshot of a November Miami Herald article. She said it was sent to her family, who are “all really freaking out.”
In a text to Olive he promised “an extra grand” after she complained about the media attention.
“They’ve been hella annoying,” he wrote.
Later, DeFilippis wrote Alvarado to say Miami Beach Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, had called her father. She said Pizzo told him that she was under investigation and “in danger.”
“You’re sure i’m not going to jail right? I’m pregnant i can not go to jail lol,” DeFilippis texted Alvarado in November.
He responded: “... Na man. I promise you.”
On December 7, she was served a subpoena at her parents’ house. Alvarado told her to retain a lawyer, or use the one he retained, Miami criminal defense attorney Marco Quesada.
“Can i actually call u know so i can sleep because im panicking,” DeFilippis wrote the next month, in December.