Florida GOP leader to quit after conviction in 'ghost' candidate scandal: report
Judge's gavel (Shutterstock.com)

Florida Republicans will lose their leader in a key county after a guilty conviction on Thursday.

"A jury of six people found Seminole County GOP Chairman Ben Paris guilty on Thursday of a misdemeanor charge that he arranged to put his cousin’s name on independent 'ghost' candidate Jestine Iannotti’s campaign contribution forms in 2020," the Orlando Sentinel reported. "Paris was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay roughly $42,000 — the cost of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the apparent vote-siphoning scheme."

Attorney Matthews Bark, who represented Paris, said his client would resign as chairman of the Seminole GOP.

"Iannotti said Paris contacted her in May 2020 asking her to run in a competitive state Senate race," the newspaper reported. "Though Iannotti had no political experience when she entered the race and did not campaign, her candidacy was central to the scheme, as she was promoted as a progressive in an advertising blitz that was apparently intended to draw votes from her Democratic opponent."

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The conviction came after the GOP leader's own cousin, Steven Smith, testified against him at trial.

"Smith said on June 19, 2020, the same day the financial report was due, Paris called to ask him if he could contribute to Iannotti’s campaign in his name. The reason for the request, Smith said Paris told him, was Paris had reached his state-imposed contribution limit. But Iannotti never reported any contributions from Paris," the newspaper reported. "At the time, Paris, the former mayor of Longwood, was running for Seminole County Commission and publicly endorsing Republican State Sen. Jason Brodeur, Iannotti’s opponent. Paris was also working for Brodeur at the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce, where Brodeur is the president and CEO."

Read the full report.