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The man who brokered a printing job — campaign mailers for three "ghost" Florida Senate candidates last fall — told investigators he took home a profit of $136,000 for what the investigators suggested may have been less than a week of work.

Frank Artiles wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © HANDOUT Frank Artiles

An investigator's interview with Luis Orlando Rodriguez, owner of Advance Impression LLC of Clermont, sheds more light on how $550,000 in dark campaign funds ended up helping three no-party affiliation candidates in state Senate races in South and Central Florida. The interview occurred in December 2020 but was released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office on Tuesday.

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Luis Orlando Rodriguez, 55, is also the stepfather of Alex Alvarado, a Tallahassee-based strategist. Alvarado set up "Our Florida" and "The Truth," political committees that were used to funnel dark money for mailers for ghost candidates who did not campaign after filling out paperwork entering the races for state Senate Districts 9, 37 and 39.

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In his interview, Luis Orlando Rodriguez said he also returned more than $65,000 of the money he received from the two PACs back to his stepson's company Alvarado Strategies, as a referral fee.

Another $100,000 was paid to '96 Consulting and Marketing, a Tallahassee company that supplied artwork for the ghost candidates' campaign mailers. Still another $26,500 was paid as a referral fee to a company run by Ryan Tyson, a Tallahassee political operative.

In the end, $220,000 to $250,000 of the original $550,000 paid to Advance Impression LLC ended up going toward mailers for the three ghost candidates, Luis Orlando Rodriguez estimated.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has levied criminal election-related charges against Frank Artiles, a former Republican state senator. He is accused of paying one of the ghost candidates in south Florida.

Records show Artiles had also been receiving a $5,000 monthly consulting check from "Let's Preserve the American Dream," an organization headed by Tyson. And, Artiles was receiving $15,000 a month during the 2020 election season from Data Targeting Inc., a powerful Gainesville firm closely linked with the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Neither Alvarado, his stepfather, Tyson, Smith or Data Targeting Inc. owner Pat Bainter have been charged with any crime. 

Artiles was scheduled to have gone on trial this week, but that's been delayed as a co-defendant and one of the ghost candidates, Alex Rodriguez, pleaded guilty last week and agreed to testify against Artiles. Artiles is accused of recruiting and paying Alex Rodriguez to run as a third candidate in the District 37 state Senate race between incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez and Republican challenger Ileana Garcia.

Alex Rodriguez laid low during the campaign. But behind the scenes, Alvarado arranged for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent to purchase postcards that were to be mailed to Democrats in that district and two other districts where similar ghost candidates were running.

Those dollars originated from a Super PAC called Grow United Inc. with a Denver postal box address. Grow United is the creation of Richard Alexander of Cullman, Alabama, records released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office show. 

Grow United put a total of $550,000 in the two PACs Alvarado created. Alvarado then moved all those funds to the company his stepfather owns, Advance Impression LLC. From there, a portion of the funds were used to support Alex Rodriguez and the other ghost candidates.

The mailers positioned Alex Rodriguez as a left-leaning independent and helped siphon votes away from the Democrat, Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Garcia ended up beating Jose Javier Rodriguez by just 32 votes, while Alex Rodriguez, despite not campaigning, received more than 6,400 votes.

Artiles has not been charged in connection with any involvement in the other two state Senate races in districts 39 and 9. But the money flowing through the Alvarado-created PACs to Advance Impression also paid for print jobs for ghost candidates in those races that used similar left-leaning messages that seemed similarly intended to siphon off Democratic votes.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has confirmed that it has opened a preliminary fact-finding investigation related to the District 9 race.

State Senate District 9 includes Seminole County and a part of southwestern Volusia County. That race was won by Republican Jason Brodeur over Democrat Patricia Sigman, with no-party-affiliation candidate Jestine Iannotti taking third. Iannotti did not campaign, and according to press reports has moved to Sweden.

Assistant State Attorney Tim VanderGiesen and Miami-Dade detectives questioned Luis Orlando Rodriguez, owner of Advance Impression LLC, on Dec. 17, 2020.

a large lawn in front of a house: A knock at the door of this Clermont home, owned by Luis Rodriguez. last April was not answered. Rodriguez told authorities his stepson, Alex Alvarado, a Republican political operative, helped arrange a print job for independent, 'ghost' candidates in three Florida Senate races in 2020. © Mark Harper/News-Journal A knock at the door of this Clermont home, owned by Luis Rodriguez. last April was not answered. Rodriguez told authorities his stepson, Alex Alvarado, a Republican political operative, helped arrange a print job for independent, 'ghost' candidates in three Florida Senate races in 2020.

Rodriguez told investigators he has worked in the printing business for more than two decades. He moved from South Florida to Central Florida in 2019, and now works for Brandco in Orlando, earning $60,000 a year to run that firm's printing department.

He started a side business, Advanced Impression, in 2018, and said he's had "hit or miss" clientele, "maybe 10, 12" customers who have ordered T-shirts, hats and flyers.

Rodriguez told investigators he doesn't own any printing equipment. Instead, he hires others to do the printing.

“I’m a broker, so I just … depending on type of printing, I have different suppliers that I use,” he told VanderGiesen.

He estimated he had done political print jobs maybe five or 10 times over the past 2½ years. All were referred to him by Alvarado or September Group, a firm Alvarado steered to his stepfather.

Rodriguez said in September 2020 Alvarado asked him to help with some printing of postcards and mailing. He in turn hired Arrowmail Print + Mail Services in Miami to do the printing.

He said Arrowmail was the only firm he contacted, which quoted him prices of between $220,000 and $250,000.

Then Rodriguez received two wire transfers totaling nearly $550,000 from the PACs Alvarado had set up.

In addition to paying Arrowmail, about $100,000 went to '96 Consulting and Marketing, a Tallahassee firm run by Smith. '96 Consulting and Marketing provided the art to be used for the print job.Smith emailed the art to Alvarado, who in turn forwarded the email to his stepfather. 

Rodriguez paid $65,211.54 to Alvarado's firm Alvarado Strategies. He also sent $26,500 to Preservation Association Management, a Tallahassee firm whose authorized representative is Tyson, a consultant and former vice president for Associated Industries of Florida.

Tyson and Alvarado were both active with Let's Preserve The American Dream, a 501-c-4 research and public opinion organization that paid Artiles in the years leading to the 2020 election, records show.

Rodriguez admitted he did not know what Preservation Association Management did, but sent money to that company via Alvarado because his stepson told him to do so.

“Followed his instructions," Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez initially estimated to investigators the job took him “maybe eight days ... coordinating dates, printing time, checking files, checking proofs, sending emails.” He later revised that to "maybe five" days.

Even then, an investigator questioned whether Rodriguez even spent that much time on the project.

"So it would be fair to say that you did not really spend eight days basically working on this project." said Miami Detective Frank Castillo. "It sounds fairly simple to me that the project was referred. You basically called. Got a quote. Got it started. And that was the end of that. So I don’t see how you can spend sixty-four hours doing this."

All told, Rodriguez said he made $136,000 on the deal. Rodriguez initially said he charged 20% of the total dollars he received because that's an industry standard. But when investigators pressed him to explain how that amount came to be set, he replied, "I don't know." 

VanderGiesen asked: “So $136,000 profit on one project is a pretty nice chunk of change for you. Is that fair to say?

Rodriguez replied: “Yes, it is.”

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This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Florida 'ghost' candidates printer says he made $136,000 off job his stepson arranged

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/florida-ghost-candidates-printer-says-he-made-136000-off-job-his-stepson-arranged/ar-AANYKhL

Florida 'ghost' candidates printer says he made $136,000 off job his stepson arranged
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