Three Members of 2012 Presidential Campaign Staff Guilty of Concealing Campaign Expenditures to State Senator
Three members of a 2012 presidential campaign committee were convicted by a federal jury in Des Moines, Iowa, on all counts of an indictment charging the concealment of campaign expenditures made to secure the endorsement of an Iowa State Senator.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.
“Concealing and falsely reporting campaign expenditures undermines the integrity and transparency of the federal election process,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “When political operatives secretly buy an elected official’s political support, it undermines public confidence in our entire political system.”
“Violating campaign finance transparency laws by falsifying expenditure records and reports deceives the public and facilitates corruption,” said Assistant Director in Charge Abbate. “The FBI will aggressively investigate those who corrupt the integrity of our democratic process. I want to thank the special agents, analysts and prosecutors who worked diligently to see this case through to today’s result.”
Jesse R. Benton, 38, of Louisville, Kentucky, and John M. Tate, 53, of Warrenton, Virginia, were convicted of conspiracy, causing false records to obstruct a contemplated investigation, causing the submission of false campaign expenditure reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and engaging in a scheme to make false statements to the FEC. Dimitrios N. Kesari, 50, of Leesburg, Virginia, was convicted of the same offenses, except causing false campaign expenditure reports, for which he was previously convicted by a jury in a separate trial in October 2015.
Chief Judge John A. Jarvey of the Southern District of Iowa noted that he would schedule sentencing for a later date.
The defendants were the senior leadership of a campaign for a candidate in the 2012 presidential election. According to the indictment, former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson initially supported one candidate in the 2012 presidential election, but between October and December 2011, negotiated with the defendants to switch his support to their candidate in exchange for money. On December 28, 2011, at a political event in Des Moines, Iowa, Sorenson publicly announced his switch of support.
Evidence at trial proved that the campaign expenditures to Sorenson were made in monthly installments of approximately $8,000 each and ultimately amounted to over $70,000. The defendants concealed the payments by causing them to be recorded – both in campaign accounting records and in FEC filings – as campaign-related audio-visual expenditures, and by causing them to be transmitted to a film production company and then to a second company that was controlled by Sorenson. The conspirators concealed their campaign’s payments to Sorenson from their candidate and also from the FEC, the FBI, and the public.
Trial evidence showed that in response to criticism of Sorenson’s change of support from one candidate to the other, the conspirators arranged for Sorenson to issue public statements denying allegations that he was offered money for his endorsement and noting that the campaign committee’s FEC filings would show that it made no payments to Sorenson.
On August 27, 2014, Sorenson pled guilty to causing a campaign committee to falsely report its expenditures to the FEC and to obstruction of justice. He has not yet been sentenced.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance from the Omaha, Nebraska, Field Office and the Des Moines Resident Agency. The case is being prosecuted by Director Richard C. Pilger of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section’s Election Crimes Branch, Deputy Chief J.P. Cooney, and Trial Attorney Jonathan I. Kravis.