Political Consultant Sentenced for Scheme Involving Illegal Foreign Campaign Contribution to 2016 Presidential Campaign
For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
A Texas man was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his role in funneling illegal foreign campaign contributions from a Russian national to a 2016 presidential campaign.
According to court documents, Jessie R. Benton, 45, of The Woodlands, schemed with another political advisor to funnel political contributions to a 2016 presidential campaign from a Russian national seeking to meet and take a picture with the presidential candidate. Benton arranged for the Russian national – whose nationality Benton concealed from the campaign and the candidate – to attend a campaign fundraising event and to take a picture with the candidate.
As such attendance and engagement required a contribution, Benton caused the Russian national to wire $100,000 to Benton’s political consulting firm to make an illegal foreign contribution to the campaign. To disguise the scheme, Benton created a fake invoice, which falsely identified the funds as payment for consulting services. Benton acted as a straw donor and contributed $25,000 of the Russian national’s money to the campaign, falsely identified himself as the contributor, and pocketed the remaining $75,000. Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, the relevant campaign entities unwittingly filed reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that inaccurately reported Benton – instead of the Russian national – as the source of the funds.
In November 2022, Benton was convicted at trial of conspiring to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effecting a conduit contribution, and causing false records to be filed with the FEC.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California, U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, and Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI San Diego Field Office made the announcement.
The FBI San Diego Field Office investigated the case.
Trial Attorneys Rebecca G. Ross and Michelle K. Parikh of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle L. Wasserman for the Southern District of California, while serving in her capacity as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, prosecuted the case.
Updated February 17, 2023
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