Jury sits in Seminole County’s first ‘ghost candidate’ trial
SANFORD, Fla. – Jury selection began Monday in the first of three criminal trials involving Seminole County the so-called “ghost candidate” scheme affect the 2020 Florida senate election.
A jury was seated Monday afternoon, consisting of six people and two substitutes. Opening statements are set to begin on Wednesday.
Benjamin Paris, President of the Republican Party of Seminole County, pleaded not guilty to one count of making illegal contributions to the campaign on behalf of another person.
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If found guilty of a misdemeanor, Paris faces a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
According to court documents, Jestine Iannotti is prepared to testify in court that Paris recruited her in 2020 to run as an independent candidate in the race for the 9th District State Senate seat.
At the time, Paris was working at the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce under Jason Brodeur, the incumbent Republican senator.
Brodeur has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has denied knowledge of the “ghost candidate” scheme.
Many political observers believe that Iannotti, who has done very little on the campaign trail, entered the race for votes from Brodeur’s Democratic opponent, Patricia Sigman.
Brodeur won the election with 7,644 votes against Sigman. Iannotti’s 5,787 votes ultimately did not change the outcome of the race.
“Some NPA candidates, often referred to as ‘ghost’ candidates, have been used by political parties as a way to close elections or extract votes,” he said. State Attorney Phil Archer said in May. “While not illegal, many have questioned the ethics of the practice.”
Paris allegedly contributed $200 to Iannotti’s campaign in his cousin’s name instead of his, as state campaign finance law required.
That cousin, Steven Smith, told investigators he didn’t give Iannotti the money. Instead, according to court filings, Smith claimed that Paris asked if he could donate to a “friend” under the Smith name because “he had reached the campaign donation limit. “
Iannotti faces a number of charges, including making a false, fictitious or fraudulent act, statement or representation, accepting an aggregated cash donation from the same contributor in a election and falsely or intentionally omitted information.
James Eric Foglesong, a political consultant in Central Florida, also faces a number of charges related to making illegal campaign contributions and making a false, fictitious act, statement or representation, or cheat.
Iannotti and Foglesong have plead not guilty.
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