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3 charged in campaign finance scheme in 2020 Florida state Senate race

WESH Orlando logo WESH Orlando 5/25/2022
james foglesong and jestine iannotti © Provided by WESH Orlando james foglesong and jestine iannotti

Three people have been charged after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement completed its investigation into a campaign finance scheme in the 2020 Florida state Senate race.

The individuals are charged with the scheme to run "ghost" candidates in the state of Florida to benefit Republican Senate candidates.

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Jestine Phillea Iannotti, 36, of Winter Springs, and James Eric Foglesong, 45, of Winter Park, are facing criminal charges and Benjamin Richard Paris, 38, of Longwood, is being served a court summons for his part in the scheme, according to the state Department of Law Enforcement.

On Tuesday, consultant Foglesong turned himself in to face five charges. Former Longwood Mayor Paris was given the notice to appear on a misdemeanor charge.

Iannotti in 2020 was the no party affiliate or independent candidate in the district nine state senate race.

Related: Court documents show scheme of ghost candidates in Florida senate races

She allegedly worked with Eric Foglesong who just left the jail Tuesday afternoon.

Local political consultant Foglesong hustled from the jail after being booked again on election-related crimes.

Now, he's facing five counts related to the ghost candidate scandal that’s been under investigation since the 2020 elections.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says Foglesong provided illegal financial support and guidance to independent state senate candidate Jestine Iannotti. Both are facing five charges, including two perjury charges against Iannotti. Agents say former Longwood Mayor Ben Paris also provided an illegal contribution in someone else's name.

The FDLE investigative report provided a receipt for Iannotti's $1,200 deposit later used to pay her qualifying fee along with text messages like this one from Foglesong: "I'll have an envelope at my office tomorrow for you if you can pick it up” and other messages indicating he received cash donations from others and provided false information to the division of elections.

Together, agents say they were part of a much larger scheme, funded by dark money groups, to help Republicans win three state Senate races.

In district nine, covering Seminole and part of Volusia counties, Republican Jason Brodeur beat Democrat Patricia Sigman.

Voters were inundated with mailers touting Iannotti as a liberal to drain support from Sigman. As WESH 2 News reported back then, the mailers were from two mysterious political committees.

Our Florida PAC received $370,000 from a Denver company called Grow United which also gave $180,000 to The Truth PAC.

The mailers in the local race appeared identical to those in two other state Senate races.

Here's what a disgusted Sigman told WESH just after the election.

“It doesn't matter how it impacted a particular race. What matters is it's deceptive, and it needs to be fixed going forward,” Sigman said.

Former Miami state Sen. Frank Artiles and former NPA candidate Alex Rodriguez were arrested in 2021 in connection with the ghost candidate scheme. Artiles is facing trial. Rodriguez pleaded guilty.

Foglesong and the others will be arraigned in the coming weeks.

Jestine Iannotti's whereabouts are unknown at this point. Ben Paris did not return a call or a text message.

He worked for his friend Brodeur at the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce, but apparently resigned. He’s also the chair of the Republican Party of Seminole County.

Spokesman Alan Byrd of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce released this statement:

"Ben Paris resigned from the Seminole County Chamber and our executive committee accepted the resignation. We are monitoring the situation to determine if any further actions are needed."

Patricia Sigman, 2020 Democratic nominee in Florida Senate District 9, released this statement:

"These new criminal charges are just the beginning of a court process that will reveal much more information the public deserves to know. Whose idea was this? Who knew about it? ...Were the people who used dark money to fund the bogus mail for Iannotti involved? Was this scheme coordinated with the Miami ghost candidate scheme that looks so similar? Great investigative journalism has shed light on much of this scheme so far, and now the process continues. "

Foglesong was arrested and charged with four counts of grand theft in 2019 and later pled guilty to one of those counts for stealing money from the campaign of then-candidate John Mina in the Orange County sheriff’s race. He just finish probation in that case in January.

READ THE FULL STORY:3 charged in campaign finance scheme in 2020 Florida state Senate race

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