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Seminole County GOP chair is found guilty in a ghost candidate scheme

Exterior of the Seminole County Courthouse
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Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford.

Ben Paris was sentenced to a year of supervised probation and 200 hours of community work.

A local Republican Party chairman in central Florida has been found guilty of a misdemeanor campaign finance violation that prosecutors say was part of a larger scheme to siphon off votes from a Democrat in a state senate race.

A judge in Seminole County on Thursday sentenced Ben Paris to a year of supervised probation and 200 hours of community work.

In May, prosecutors filed charges against Paris, the chair of the Seminole County GOP; political consultant James “Eric” Foglesong; and Jestine Iannotti.

Prosecutors say Iannotti ran as an independent candidate in the central Florida state Senate race but did not campaign.

The alleged goal of the scheme was to help Paris’ former boss, Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, win his election by using a so-called ghost candidate to siphon off votes from his competitor. It’s unclear whether the scheme helped Brodeur maintain his seat.

In his opening statement, Paris’ attorney, Matthews Bark, said the state lacks evidence.

“That’s the crime — making the donation,” Bark said. “One thing that you will not hear is that Benjamin Paris made a donation at all. Benjamin Paris did not make a donation. What I’m telling you [the jury] is to look for that lack of evidence.”

Still, prosecutors said Paris broke the law.

“The state will have been able to prove to you that the defendant, as a principle, or active participant, did commit the crime of making a campaign contribution by or through the name of another,” said Assistant State Attorney Stacey Straub Salmons in her opening statement.

WMFE reporters Brendan Byrne and Danielle Prieur contributed to this report.