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Ethics panel recommends maximum $20,000 fine for sham candidate in Florida Senate race

Ana Ceballos and Samantha J. Gross, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — A state ethics panel has recommended that a no-party candidate be fined $20,000 and formally reprimanded by Gov. Ron DeSantis for violating campaign finance laws, which included accepting money from a Miami Republican operative prior to qualifying to run in a 2020 state Senate race.

Alexis Pedro Rodriguez last week reached a settlement with the Florida Commission on Ethics, which found that he had filed inaccurate campaign documents with the state and accepted money from former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles with the understanding that he would change his party affiliation from Republican to no party to qualify to run in the Senate District 37 election.

The panel unanimously voted on the $20,000 fine — the maximum penalty for the two alleged violations — as well as public censure and reprimand for his violations. Rodriguez and Artiles are still facing criminal charges in connection to the alleged scheme, which Miami prosecutors say was intended to siphon votes from the Democrat incumbent in the race.

The commission’s recommendation, if accepted by DeSantis, could mark the first time Rodriguez has been formally reprimanded for his role in the alleged election scheme, which one commissioner called one of the “most egregious” ethics cases in Florida.

The auto parts salesman who originally pleaded not guilty to criminal charges related to the scheme entered into a plea agreement in August, pleading guilty to two campaign finance charges and agreeing to help prosecutors in their case against Artiles, who is still awaiting trial in the criminal case related to the scheme.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment on whether he intends to accept or reject the panel’s recommendation. The governor, who this year made election integrity issues a top legislative priority, has not commented on the case.

 

The ethics panel originally rejected a $6,500 stipulation in August, and suggested a higher penalty. The maximum penalty is $10,000 per violation.

“This is exactly the type of case where there aren’t innocent disclosures or mistakes,” ethics commissioner and former state Rep. Jim Waldman said. “That is the distinction ... it’s one thing to make an innocent mistake, it’s another to totally misrepresent things.”

Rodriguez’s lawyer, Miami-based William Barzee, declined to comment on the panel’s decision.

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