Seminole County

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

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — Both sides have rested in the trial of a man charged in a “ghost candidate” investigation.

Prosecutors said Ben Paris used his cousin’s name to make a contribution to that state Senate candidate in 2020, and he’s not the only one charged in this investigation.


Political strategist James “Eric” Foglesong and the NPA candidate, Jestine Iannotti, are also facing charges.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Iannotti illegally accepted a $1,200 cash donation from Foglesong for her campaign.

Iannotti, who is facing felony charges related to the case, took the stand Wednesday afternoon.

Read: Trial to begin Wednesday for Seminole County ‘ghost candidate’ case

She told jurors she has known Paris for about 15 years, but in May of 2020, Paris, the Republican party chairman in Seminole County, called her and asked if she would be interested in running as an NPA candidate in the 9th District state Senate race.

Paris looked on as prosecutors made their case to a jury. They allege Paris used his cousin Steven Smith’s name to make a $200 cash contribution to ghost candidate “Jess Iannotti,” which they say was illegal.

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

Paris’ defense attorney told jurors his client is innocent, as there is no evidence his client ever donated to Iannotti’s campaign.

The state attorneys’ case against Paris focused heavily on connecting the dots between several texts and phone call conversations between him, Iannotti and Fogelsong leading up to Iannotti’s candidacy for the 9th District Senate seat in June 2020.

None of the calls or texts came from Smith’s phone.

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

Fogelsong and Iannotti are facing felony charges of skirting Florida election law by falsely using the names of other individuals as contributors in official campaign finance documents.

Paris’ attorney did not cross-examine Iannotti on the stand.

Closing arguments are set for Thursday morning, with the jury expected to get the case right after.

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Jeff Levkulich

Jeff Levkulich,

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

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson,

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.