Prosecutors seek information on money transfer in ‘ghost’ candidate’s case

TALLAHASSEE — Prosecutors have subpoenaed cases related to a $600,000 money transfer between black money organizations tied to an ongoing Miami-Dade criminal case involving “ghost candidates” in the 2020 election, according to court records released Friday.

The transfer adds a new layer of intrigue to a years-long question about who paid for thousands of political mail ads to promote bogus non-party candidates in three contested races in Florida that were key to helping solidify the Republican majority in the State Senate.

While the source is still unclear, the money transfer shows prosecutors investigating a $600,000 transfer made on or about September 30 by the Safe Environment Foundation, a nonprofit controlled by prominent Republican agent Stafford Jones, for Preserve the American Dream, a nonprofit organization headed by Ryan Tyson, one of Florida’s top GOP pollsters.

During the investigation, court records show Tyson told investigators he too sent $600,000 on September 29, 2020 to Grow United, a black money organization that sent $550,000 to two committees policies that have paid mailers promoting political progressives for nonparty candidates in two Miami-Dade State Senate races and another in Central Florida.

Tyson told investigators that his organization transferred the money to Grow United to help ‘left-centered’ candidates, and that he ‘had a hunch’ the money would then be transferred to the two political committees – The Truth and Our Florida – which were controlled by Tallahassee Consultant Alex Alvarado.

Tyson, however, said he couldn’t be sure what the money was used for. He told investigators that “once he makes a contribution to an entity, he loses control over how they spend the money.”

A maze of political committees, non-profit associations

Filings released Friday — a summary of investigative activities related to Senate Districts 37 and 39 elections from September 1 through December 31, 2021 — did not provide many details about the Safe Environment Foundation’s relationship with investigation. But Jones, who chairs the organization, controls a number of policy committees associated with prominent GOP research firm Data Targeting, court records show. Data Targeting has long served as the primary firm advising Senate Republican campaigns, including during the 2020 election cycle.

Data Targeting also paid former Republican Senator Frank Artiles, who faces multiple charges related to the nonparty candidate who ran in District 37, for campaign-related work. Data Targeting paid Artiles $90,000 over six months to work on “state legislative campaign assignments…to include certain Senate districts in Miami-Dade County,” according to documents released by the District Attorney’s Office. Miami-Dade State. The contract did not detail the exact tasks.

Unlike political committees, which are legally required to disclose their donors, black money groups are not required by law to do so, making them useful for funders who do not want their identities revealed. when they support certain campaigns or causes.

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Additionally, records show that on April 20, prosecutors were seeking information from Brian Lacey, who worked with the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee until he was fired in December 2020 following “a bad cycle and Losses in Florida Senate Races”.

The DLCC also received money from Grow United. Lacey told investigators he remembered the contribution was made, but had no information beyond that and did not have access to those records because he was not employed by the committee.

Friday’s records are part of the discovery in the case against Artiles in Miami.

The candidate for Senate District 37, who shares a surname with the incumbent Democrat and won more than 6,000 votes in an election decided by just 32, was arrested last year on four campaign finance charges . Auto parts dealer Alexis Pedro Rodriguez later entered a plea deal in exchange for helping prosecutors build a case against his acquaintance, Artiles. Investigators say Artiles paid Rodriguez $40,000 to run as a non-party candidate to influence the outcome of the election by siphoning off incumbent votes.

READ MORE: After 3 days of recount, incumbent Democrat loses Senate seat to Ileana Garcia

The two men were charged with conspiracy to make or accept campaign contributions in excess of legal limits, accepting and making such excess campaign contributions, perjury oaths in connection with an election, and aiding (and possibly submitted) false electoral information. Under state law, each of these charges carries penalties of up to five years in prison if convicted.

The case is scheduled for its next hearing on September 1.

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