Political Operatives Indicted for Alleged Scheme Involving Illegal Campaign Contribution to 2016 Presidential Campaign
An indictment was unsealed today in the District of Columbia charging a Kentucky man and a Florida man both with conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effect a conduit contribution and cause false records to be filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and related substantive offenses.
According to court documents, Jesse R. Benton, 43, of Louisville, Kentucky, who previously worked as a campaign manager for two campaigns for U.S. Senate and one campaign for president, and Roy Douglas “Doug” Wead, 75, of Bonita Springs, Florida, who previously served as an advisor to multiple presidential campaigns, conspired together to solicit a political contribution from a Russian foreign national (Foreign National 1). As described in the indictment, Wead conveyed to Foreign National 1 that he could meet Political Candidate 1, a candidate for president during the 2016 election cycle, in exchange for a payment. Shortly after Foreign National 1 committed to transfer the funds, Benton reached out to individuals at Political Committee B, the national party committee for Political Candidate 1’s political party. He then arranged for Foreign National 1 to attend a political fundraising event and get a photograph with Political Candidate 1, in exchange for a political contribution to Political Committee C, a joint fundraising committee comprised of the campaign committee for Political Candidate 1, Political Committee B, and related state committees. Foreign National 1 ultimately wired $100,000 to Company A, a political consulting firm owned by Benton. To disguise the true purpose of the transfer of funds, Wead and Benton created a fake invoice for “consulting services” and invented a cover story.
Wead and Foreign National 1 attended the political fundraising event for Political Candidate 1 on Sept. 22, 2016. Foreign National 2, who worked as a Russian/English translator for Wead, also attended. All three individuals had photographs taken at the event with Political Candidate 1. Following the event, Benton repeatedly represented to a consultant working for Political Committee B and Political Committee C that he had already sent the promised contribution for the event, but in actuality he delayed sending the contribution. Benton ultimately filled out a contributor form, indicated that he was the contributor, and used a personal credit card to make a $25,000 contribution. Benton retained the remaining $75,000 of Foreign National 1’s money. Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, three different political committees unwittingly filed reports with the FEC that inaccurately reported Benton, rather than Foreign National 1, as the source of the funds.
Benton and Wead are both charged with one count of conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effect a conduit contribution, and cause false records to be filed with the FEC, one count of contribution by a foreign national, one count of contribution in the name of another and three counts of making false entries in an official record. The defendants made their initial court appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If convicted, Benton and Wead face a range of maximum penalties from five to 20 years in prison, per count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI’s San Diego Field Office is investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Rebecca G. Ross and Michelle K. Parikh of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle L. Wasserman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.