July 3, 2022

GHOST CANDIDATES: Florida Republicans indicted for election fraud scheme

GHOST CANDIDATES: Florida Republicans finally indicted for election fraud scheme

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The Chair of the Seminole County Republican Party in Florida, Benjamin Paris, has just been arrested and charged in relation to election fraud involving fake candidates in the 2020 cycle.

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Also arrested were Jestine Ianotti, one of the three “ghost” candidates that ran in 2020, and political consultant Eric Foglesong, who launched her fraudulent campaign.

The charges on all three stem from an investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), with Ianotti facing six charges, Foglesong facing five counts, and Paris facing a single charge of making a contribution through or in the name of another. A press release by the FDLE stated that Iannotti had illegally accepted a $1,200 donation from Foglesong and that both of them falsely used names of other people to list contributors in official campaign finance documents. Paris provided the name and address of one of those individuals.

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“Ghost candidates” that ran as no party affiliated like Ianotti were used to siphon off Democratic votes in various state senate races in 2020. While the practice may not be illegal on its own, it is unethical, and often involves the violation of campaign finance laws to fund these straw candidates. That is exactly what got these alleged crooks caught in this instance. Added to tactics like partisan gerrymandering in Florida, the presence of “ghost candidates” makes elections in the state particularly dirty.

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Iannotti was always a sketchy candidate. As soon as she qualified for the race, she took an extended vacation to Sweden, and, despite her absence, her campaign was promoted by entities led by Republican political consultant Alex Alvarado, who has also been notified by prosecutors that he is a target of investigations.

The Republican who benefitted from the scheme involving Ianotti is Jason Brodeur, who won his state senate seat in district 9 with 50.3 percent of the vote while his Democratic opponent earned 47.5 percent and Iannotti got 2.1 percent. Adding to the corrupt and incestuous nature of these types of grifts, Paris also works for Brodeur at the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

A fake candidate in South Florida named Alex Rodriguez, who was recruited as an NPA to run against Democratic incumbent Jose Javier Rodriguez, got 6,000 votes in senate district 37. Jose Javier Rodriguez would go on to lose his seat by a mere 32 votes. Former Republican Senator Frank Artiles has been indicted in relation to that particular case.

Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.

Thomas Kennedy

is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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