Seminole County

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

SANFORD, Fla. — Update:

A jury returned a guilty verdict in this case shortly after 1:45 p.m. Thursday.


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

Channel 9′s Jeff Levkulich will have a full report on the verdict live on Eyewitness News at 4. Click here to stream it live.

Previous story:

The fate of the head of Seminole County’s Republican Party is now in the hands of a jury.

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

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

During closing arguments Thursday morning, prosecutors told jurors that Paris, who is the former Longwood mayor as well as the current chair of the Republican Party in Seminole County, conspired with District 9 Senate candidate Jestine Iannotti and political consultant Eric Foglesong to illegally use the name of another to make a campaign contribution to Iannottis campaign.

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

They said there is a mountain of evidence that they put into a timeline of phone calls and text messages between the three individuals during May and June of 2020.

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

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.

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

Smith said he never met Iannotti or Foglesong.

Paris’ defense attorney claimed the state did not prove anything – it can’t prove where the money came from, and it has no proof that Paris donated the money.

The state said it didn’t have to prove that he physically donated the money, but the name of his cousin didn’t just appear out of thin air and end up on a campaign contribution list.

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Jeff Levkulich

Jeff Levkulich,

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