Rand Paul Supporter Convicted in 2012 Campaign Payoff Scheme

  • U.S. says father's 2012 campaign paid lawmaker to switch sides
  • Ron Paul attacked prosecution as government bid to hurt son

A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul was convicted in a federal corruption case stemming from his father’s failed 2012 bid for the White House, bringing more bad news to a campaign struggling to catch frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Dimitrios Kesari, deputy campaign manager in Iowa for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, was found guilty on one count related to false campaign records. Jesse Benton, who served as a campaign manager for Paul, was acquitted by a jury in Des Moines federal court. He was accused of lying to FBI agents about a scheme to hide a $73,000 payment to a local politician.

“God is great,” Benton said Thursday as he left the courthouse. “It feels good.”

Benton, who is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, more recently worked with a super PAC supporting the campaign of his son, a U.S. senator for Kentucky. After his indictment, he took a leave of absence as a general consultant to America’s Liberty PAC.

Didn’t Know

The trial included testimony by Ron Paul that he didn’t know of secret payments made by his campaign staff to an Iowa lawmaker. Prosecutors said the payoff was made to turn the politician, Kent Sorenson, away from a rival for the Republican nomination, former U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann. Paul, also a former member of the House, said he wouldn’t have approved the scheme had he known.

Ron Paul said his testimony for the prosecution was “a heavy burden for my family,” and that he believed the indictment of his staffers was designed to injure his son’s presidential campaign, coming as it did before the first Republican debate.

“I don’t consider that a coincidence,” Paul said.

Prosecutors accused Benton and Kesari of trying to cover-up the payment, allegedly made to a company set up by Sorenson, a member of several conservative groups in the state. Sorenson, who faces a 25-year prison term for his part in the scheme, testified for the prosecution.

Strained Relationship

Defense lawyers attacked Sorenson during cross-examination, contending he had a “strained relationship with the truth.” Another Rand Paul ally, John Tate, won dismissal of related charges Oct. 9. The judge also dismissed four of the five counts against Benton.

The jury acquitted Kesari of obstruction and was unable to reach a verdict on three other counts against him, including conspiracy. The judge gave prosecutors 10 days to refile those charges.

Kesari declined to comment on the verdict. He faces as long as 20 years in prison when sentenced.

“We are exploring our options,” said his lawyer, Jesse Binnall.

Prosecutors may also refile charges that were dismissed before trial against Benton and Tate.

The case is U.S. v. Benton, 15-cr-00103, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa (Des Moines).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.