Bank documents shed light on black money group in Florida ‘ghost’ nominee scandal


ORLANDO — Hundreds of thousands of dollars a month flowed through a black-money nonprofit key to Florida’s “ghost” candidate scandal in the nine months leading up to the 2020 election, flowing between agents and entities involved in races across the state, according to newly released documents.

Banking records for Let’s Preserve the American Dream Inc. – which has close ties to big business lobbying firm Associated Industries of Florida – emerged last week from a criminal case in Miami, after the group’s leader, former Vice President of Associated Industries of Florida Ryan Tyson, resisted their disclosure.

Although heavily redacted, the records reveal a rare glimpse into the day-to-day operations of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which are favored by political operatives for their opacity: they don’t have to reveal their donors and only limited information on how their money is spent.

Bank statements for Let’s Preserve the American Dream were obtained by subpoena by Miami prosecutors in the case against Frank Artiles, a former lawmaker accused of bribing his friend, Alex Rodriguez, to show up at the State Senate in 2020.

Related: Ex-Florida senator Artiles paid more than $40,000 to non-party candidate, arrest warrant charges

Records show large sums of money changing hands between key figures in the ghost candidate scandal.

For example, Let’s Preserve the American Dream sent $30,000 to TMP Interactive, a company run by Jeff Pitts, then CEO of Matrix LLC. This 2020 Alabama-based political consulting firm counted Florida Power & Light, other major Florida corporations, and Associated Industries contributors among its clients.

The payment to Pitts’ company was dated September 22, 2020. A week later, Preserve the American Dream sent $600,000 to a nonprofit organization controlled by Pitts and his Matrix LLC colleagues: “Grow United.” . Days later, that group sent $550,000 to two political committees headed by Alex Alvarado, a Tallahassee-based operative — who was working for Tyson at the time.

Alvarado’s committees, which like Let’s Preserve the American Dream were based in Associated Industries of Florida headquarters from the Florida governor’s mansion, spent the money promoting Rodriguez and two other low-key independent candidates. in crucial Senate races.

Prosecutors say it was part of a vote siphoning scheme. Ads paid for by Alvarado’s committees were designed to appeal to left-leaning voters and each of the independent candidates, despite not campaigning, drew thousands of votes, including in Senate District 9 of Central Florida.

When Tyson was questioned by prosecutors in the Artiles case, he said he sent the money to Grow United in the hope that it would be used to support ‘center-left’ political causes, but without any specific instructions. .

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“Did you know that when that $600,000 was sent to Grow United, that…$550,000 was going to go to Alex Alvarado’s two political committees?” asked Tim VanderGiesen, a public corruption prosecutor for the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office.

“I had a hunch they would help them,” Tyson replied.

Less than three months after VanderGiesen interviewed Tyson, he informed Let’s Preserve the American Dream in a letter that the nonprofit was being investigated for “possible violations of Florida election laws and on campaign finance. Alvarado also received a similar letter, among other players in the scandal.

Tyson declined to answer questions from the Orlando Sentinel on payments reported in bank statements.

“The Orlando Sentinel continues to report on his favorite narrative, hoping that his political-justice-warrior sensationalism can stem the decline in his subscriptions – no matter what harm the LPAD is done,” Tyson wrote in an email.

A spokesperson for Pitts did not respond to questions about the purpose of the $30,000 payment to TMP Interactive.

Also revealed in bank records: On July 27, 2020, Preserve the American Dream sent $100,000 to the Florida Consumer Awareness Fund, a nonprofit chaired by Stafford Jones, a Gainesville-based political operative for Data Targeting, the company who led the Florida Senate campaigns. statewide for the GOP in 2020.

We do not know what this money was used for. But about a month earlier, another Jones-led group, the Economic Improvement Fund, had sent that same amount to an entity controlled by Artiles, which at the time was receiving $15,000 a month through Data Targeting to work on the runs of the South Florida Senate.

Jones did not respond to an email asking what the Preserve the American Dream funds were used for or why the Economic Improvement Fund sent money to Artiles.

Bank statements, obtained by the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office during its investigation of Artiles, would generally become public, as required by state law when prosecutors provide evidence to attorneys for a defendant in a criminal case.

But attorneys representing Let’s Preserve the American Dream argued that disclosing donor names would hamper the organization’s work. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who is overseeing the case against Artiles, agreed to release a redacted version of the records, describing the group’s donors as a “who’s who of names, important names in our community”.

The records shed light on entities and individuals who received money from Let’s Preserve the American Dream during the 2020 campaign season and since. Other transactions revealed in the filings include:

  • Three expenses between April and July 2020 totaling $922,500 for A Better Miami-Dade Inc., another not-for-profit organization with close ties to Associated Industries of Florida which was a major funder of Grow United that year. The nonprofit’s grantees have been active across the state in 2020, helping fund everything from a campaign to make it harder to change the state constitution to attacking ads against Rick Singh, then Orange County real estate appraiser.
  • A $26,000 payment on July 9, 2020 to Broken Promises, a black money group that participated in a 2018 State Senate race in Gainesville that featured tactics similar to “ghost” candidate races. The payment came days before Broken Promises sent $20,000 to a super PAC called Concerned Conservatives, which was supporting a candidate in a Republican congressional primary in southwest Florida. Preserve the American Dream also contributed $25,000 to this group in August 2020.
  • Preserve the American Dream sent more than $850,000 to Game Day Strategies LLC in three transactions in March and April 2021. According to a deposition in the Artiles case, this entity is a subsidiary of Canopy Partners, a company led by Pitts, his former Matrix LLC colleague Abigail MacIver and longtime Democratic fundraiser Dan Newman, who was also told by Artiles prosecutors that he was under investigation. Game Day Strategies promoted a constitutional amendment campaign to bring a casino to Jacksonville, an effort that was mired in allegations of possibly forged signatures.

The payments to Game Day Strategies came after Let’s Preserve the American Dream received a large cash injection following the 2020 election; his bank account reported two credits totaling just over $5 million in December, although the source of those funds is unclear.

Although Preserve the American Dream, Alvarado, Newman and Richard Alexander, the president of Grow United, received letters informing them that they were under investigation, only Artiles and Rodriguez, the friend that he is accused of bribing him to run for office, were charged in the case.

Artiles pleaded not guilty. Rodriguez pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Artiles.


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