Seminole County GOP head, ex-Longwood mayor Ben Paris found guilty in ghost candidate scheme

click to enlarge Seminole County GOP Chair and ex-Longwood mayor Ben Paris. - LinkedIn/Ben Paris
LinkedIn/Ben Paris
Seminole County GOP Chair and ex-Longwood mayor Ben Paris.

Seminole County GOP Chair Ben Paris was found guilty for his part in a scheme to run a progressive ghost candidate to siphon votes from a Democratic candidates in a 2020 state Senate race.

Paris enlisted the help of political novice Jestine Iannotti, painting her platform as that of a progressive independent. Iannotti did zero campaigning, but ads placed by GOP operatives placed her campaign to the left of all competition in a bid to siphon off votes from Democrats. Paris made an illegal contribution to Iannotti's "campaign" under the name of his cousin Steven Smith and that's ultimately what brought him down. 

Smith testified that Paris asked to make the contribution in his name, saying that he had run up against his limit for contributions to Iannotti's sham run. Iannotti was one of three candidates identified in a statewide push of ghost candidates to lessen the chances of Democratic victories.

The groups supporting the candidates and funding the advertising push have been tied to the utility company Florida Power & Light, though the company denies all allegations that they knew of the scheme.

Paris has been placed on probation for 12 months and ordered to pay back the more than $40,000 investigators spent looking into the plot. He will also have to work 200 hours of community service. Iannotti and another alleged plotter have yet to stand trial.

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