A former state senator in Florida is facing felony charges for allegedly recruiting a "ghost candidate" to help a fellow Republican win last November. After Democratic state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez lost his seat by a razor-thin margin of 32 votes out of more than 215,000 cast, the party started asking questions about another Rodriguez on the ballot who received more than 6,000 votes but never campaigned, the Washington Post reports. Police say former state Sen. Frank Artiles paid Alexis Rodriguez, a friend in financial trouble, more than $44,000 to run as an independent in a scheme to "confuse voters and siphon votes from the incumbent." Both men were charged with election law violations Thursday. Authorities say state Sen. Ileana Garcia, who won the race, has not been implicated in the scheme.
According to an arrest warrant, Artiles told Rodriguez to change his affiliation to independent and use paperwork with an old address so he would qualify to run in the state's 37th District, the Miami Herald reports. "Artiles explained that Rodriguez would not be involved in any part of the campaign, nor would he have to participate in any decision making," the warrant states. The only campaigning done on Rodriguez's behalf involved political mailers funded by a mystery donor through two political action committees. A lawyer for Rodriguez says he is now cooperating with investigators. The lawyer says Artiles "cynically targeted and used" a vulnerable friend "to confuse voters and steal the election." Authorities say they are also investigating two other suspicious candidates in Florida races. (Read more Election 2020 stories.)