Seminole County

GOP leader in Seminole County ‘ghost candidate’ case found guilty

SANFORD, Fla. — The Seminole County Republican party chairman at the center of a “ghost candidate” investigation was found guilty by a jury Thursday afternoon.

Benjamin Paris was accused of illegally using his cousin’s name to make a campaign contribution to an NPA candidate for the District 9 Senate race in 2020.


Read: Jury returns guilty verdict in ‘ghost candidate’ case against GOP leader in Seminole County

During closing arguments Thursday morning, prosecutors told jurors that Paris conspired with District 9 Senate candidate Jestine Iannotti and political consultant Eric Foglesong to illegally use the name of another person to make a campaign contribution to Iannotti’s campaign.

Prosecutors pointed to what they called a mountain of evidence consisting of phone calls and text messages between the three individuals during May and June 2020.

But the biggest piece of evidence was from Paris’ cousin, Steven Smith, whose name appears on the campaign contribution list.

Watch: Woman accused in Seminole County ‘ghost candidate’ investigation takes the stand

Smith testified Wednesday that Paris called him on June 19, 2020, the day the list of campaign contributors was due to the state, and asked him if he could use his name as a contributor because he had already exceeded his campaign contributions.

Smith said he never met Iannotti or Foglesong.

Watch: 3 charged in connection with 2020 state Senate race ‘ghost candidate’ controversy

Paris’ defense attorney claimed the state did not prove where the money came from, and that there was no proof that Paris donated the money.

The jury returned a guilty verdict shortly after 1:45 p.m.

A  judge sentenced Paris to 12 months of supervised probation and $42,000 in restitution for the cost of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation.

Read: Third-party ghost candidate in local Senate race the focus of FDLE investigation

Trial dates for Foglesong and Iannotti have yet to be set. Both are facing felony charges and have hearings scheduled for later this month.

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Jeff Levkulich

Jeff Levkulich,

Jeff Levkulich joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in June 2015.

Matt Reeser

Matt Reeser,

Matt Reeser joined WFTV in 1998 as a news photographer and has worked for television stations in Kentucky and West Virginia.