- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

Three former staffers with Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, one of whom now works as a strategist for the pro-Donald Trump “Great America PAC,” were convicted Thursday of charges related to paying a lawmaker for an endorsement.

Prosecutors said the staffers arranged for payments totaling $73,125 to be funneled to Kent Leroy Sorenson, then an Iowa state senator, in exchange for his agreement to drop support for Michele Bachmann for president and instead endorse Mr. Paul.

A federal jury in Des Moines found campaign chairman Jesse R. Benton, campaign manager John M. Tate and deputy manager Dimitrios N. Kesari guilty of a conspiracy to cover up and conceal the payments.

The approximately $8,000 payments were made first to a film production company and then to a second company that Sorenson controlled in an effort to conceal the payments, prosecutors said.

Benton, who now helps to run the pro-Trump super PAC., Tate and Kesari were found guilty of conspiracy, causing false records to obstruct a contemplated investigation, and engaging in a scheme to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

Benton and Tate were also found guilty of causing false campaign expenditure reports to be submitted to the FEC, a charge Kesari was already found guilty of in a separate trial last year.

Thursday’s conviction is the second legal go-round for the men.

An initial trial ended in mixed results. Jurors deadlocked on the other three charges Kesari had faced, and Benton was acquitted of the single count he faced.

Three charges against Benton and four charges against Tate were dismissed by a federal judge as a result of prosecutors’ wrongful use of evidence to secure grand jury indictments, the Des Moines Register reported.

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.

Sentencing dates for the men have not yet been set. 

Sorenson pleaded guilty in 2014 to causing the Paul campaign to falsely report its spending to the FEC and to obstruction of justice. He has not yet been sentenced.

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 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.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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