DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Three campaign advisers to 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul were convicted Thursday in a federal case alleging they conspired to cover up the campaign’s payments to a former Iowa state senator who had agreed to endorse their boss.
Prosecutors said it is illegal to cause a campaign to file inaccurate spending documents. They’ve pursued charges since July 2015 when a grand jury first indicted the men.
Paul’s campaign chairman Jesse Benton, campaign manager John Tate and deputy manager Dimitri Kesari argued they broke no laws when they paid a video production company, which passed on $73,000 to former Sen. Kent Sorenson. He dropped support for in the presidential race for Michele Bachmann and endorsed Paul six days before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
They said they were targeted because of their conservative politics and argued campaigns typically don’t identify payments to subcontractors of vendors.
The federal jury convicted Benton, Tate and Kesari of conspiracy, causing false campaign contribution reports to be filed to the Federal Election Commission and participating in a false statement scheme. Benton and Tate also were convicted of causing the campaign to file false records of the payments; Kesari, 50, of Leesburg, Virginia, was convicted of that charge last year.
Benton and his attorneys declined to comment after the jury verdict was announced in court following a seven-day trial. He hugged his wife in the hallway outside the courtroom as she sobbed. Benton is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, Valori Pyeatt.
Tate, 53, of Warrenton, Virginia, and his attorneys also declined to comment.
Kesari’s attorney, Jesse Binnall said he will appeal. He said federal prosecutors were overzealous in charging the men with actions that the FEC has not pursued in other campaigns.
“What they did here doesn’t constitute a crime,” he said. “Nothing they did was wrong.”
Federal prosecutors said violating transparency laws leads to corruption and the FBI will aggressively pursue such cases.
“Concealing and falsely reporting campaign expenditures undermines the integrity and transparency of the federal election process,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. “When political operatives secretly buy an elected official’s political support, it undermines public confidence in our entire political system.”
Sentencing will be set later. The judge continued their bond and the men walked out of the courtroom.
All three men face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the charge of causing the campaign to file false records of the payments. The other three charges carry maximum prison sentences of five years each.
Ron Paul, who testified at the trail, said the men didn’t try to hide anything. He has long contended the prosecution was politically motivated toward the men, who have been active in political action groups and conservative tea party efforts.
Benton, 38, of Louisville, Kentucky, also managed the successful 2010 U.S. Senate campaign for Paul’s son, Rand Paul, in Kentucky. Benton took a leave of absence from America’s Liberty, a super PAC supporting Rand Paul’s presidential run, when the legal fight against the charges began last year. Rand Paul suspended his presidential bid in February.
Benton also served as campaign manager for Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2014 re-election, but resigned that summer as the Iowa investigation intensified.
A spokesman for Ron Paul said Paul was not making comments on the outcome of the trial. Rand Paul did not immediately respond to messages.
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