Jurors selected in trial of Seminole GOP chair in ‘ghost candidate’ case

A jury has been seated in the trial of former Longwood mayor and current Seminole County GOP chairman Benjamin Paris.

Paris is accused of helping put a "ghost candidate" on a ballot to siphon off votes from a Democratic candidate in a state Senate race in Central Florida. In May, prosecutors filed charges against Paris; political consultant James "Eric" Foglesong; and the candidate, Jestine Iannotti.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Iannotti illegally accepted a $1,200 cash donation from Foglesong for her campaign. Iannotti and Foglesong falsely used the names of others as contributors in state campaign finance reports skirting Florida laws on campaign contributions, the FDLE said. 

The Seminole County race was one of three state Senate races where independent candidates filed to run but did not campaign in 2020. The candidates were promoted in an advertising blitz paid for by a dark money nonprofit group run by consultants working closely with Florida Power & Light, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The utility denies it had any involvement.

The state anticipates Iannotti will tell the court that Paris asked her to run, the newspaper also reports. 

Earlier this month, Foglesong pleaded not guilty to election finance-related charges during an arraignment hearing at the Seminole County Courthouse. Iannotti and Paris have entered not guilty pleas as well.

Opening statements in the State vs. Benjamin Paris are scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. before Judge Wayne Culver.