Business

Former Rand Paul aide, pardoned by Trump, charged with funneling Russian money into 2016 election

Jesse Benton speaking to a reporter.
Jesse Benton, spokesman for the Ron Paul campaign, speaking to reporters in the spin room after the CNN Debate on January 1, 2012.

  • Jesse Benton worked as a campaign staffer for former Rep. Ron Paul, as well as Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell.
  • In 2016, he was convicted of campaign finance crimes related to his role on the Ron Paul campaign.
  • Trump pardoned him before leaving office.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A former campaign staffer for US Sen. Rand Paul has been charged with channeling money from Russia into the 2016 presidential election, the US Department of Justice said Monday.

In an unsealed indictment, dated September 9, prosecutors allege Jesse Benton “conspired to illegally funnel thousands of dollars of foreign money from a Russian foreign national” into the campaign.

In October 2016, Benton received a $100,000 wire transfer from the unnamed Russian national, the indictment states, promising him that he would get to “meet a celebrity” at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on September 22, 2016.

Prosecutors do not name the candidate, but former President Donald Trump was hosting a fundraiser that night at the Ritz-Carlton in Center City, Philadelphia.

The Russian national attended the fundraiser, according to the indictment, his travel to the United States facilitated by an alleged co-conspirator, Roy Douglas Wead, a conservative author. All three “had official photographs taken with Political Candidate 1,” prosecutors say.

The two are accused of falsely portraying the contribution as payment for “consulting work.” Benton kept most of it himself – $75,000, according to the indictment. The rest was donated to the politician in Benton’s name.

Around the same time, Benton – who managed Paul’s 2010 run for office, as well as the 2014 campaign of another Kentucky Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell – was convicted of campaign finance fraud over his role in the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign. He was sentenced days before the Philadelphia fundraiser to two years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

Before leaving office, Trump pardoned Benton for that crime.

If convicted in this case, Benton and Wead could face significant prison time, with each of the six counts against them carrying a sentence of five t0 20 years behind bars.

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