Florida 'ghost candidate' criminal scheme linked to political operatives in Alabama: report
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On Thursday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the funding used in a criminal scheme to spoil South Florida races for the benefit of Republicans using "ghost candidates" may have come from outside the state — and could be linked to political power brokers in Alabama.

"At issue is $550,000 donated last year by a dark-money nonprofit to a pair of political committees that promoted little-known independent candidates in three key Senate races: Senate District 9 in Central Florida and Senate Districts 37 and 39 in South Florida," said the report. "The money paid for nearly identical mailers apparently tailored to persuade Democratic-leaning voters to support the independent candidates in each of the three races, all of which were ultimately won by Republicans."

The scheme has been linked to a former Republican lawmaker named Frank Artiles, who was arrested on felony charges stemming from the scandal in March. Political operatives hired by the GOP in the scheme were reportedly terrified they would be charged with crimes themselves.

"Investigators in the Artiles case have obtained records that suggest the nonprofits [bankrolling the campaigns] had ties to consultants working at the time for Matrix LLC, an Alabama-based communication and political consulting business," said the report. "According to records from a separate civil lawsuit, those consultants all left Matrix at the end of last year amid a falling out with the company's founder, Joe Perkins, a Democratic strategist and behind-the-scenes power broker. Matrix recently sued its ex-employees — who now work together at a new consulting shop in Florida — accusing them of diverting fees from clients to businesses and nonprofits they set up for themselves."

The trial is set to begin in August.