3 Top Rand Paul Associates Were Just Indicted
After years of investigation by the Department of Justice, three top Rand Paul associates, including the senator's nephew-in-law, were indicted for their role in an alleged attempt to buy an influential Iowa state senator's endorsement of Ron Paul during his 2012 presidential campaign. None of these operatives, who served as top Ron Paul campaign aides, are currently on the payroll of Rand Paul's presidential campaign. But two of them—Jesse Benton, who is married to Paul's niece, and John Tate—run pro-Rand Paul super-PACs that have together raised $5 million to support Paul's presidential campaign. The third man indicted, Dimitri Kesari, has served as an aide to both Rand Paul and his father.
Last year, former Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson (R) pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges accusing him of helping to cover up a scheme for the Ron Paul campaign to pay him more than $70,000 to switch his endorsement immediately before the 2012 Iowa caucus, from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul. Sorenson has been awaiting sentencing pending his cooperation in a further investigation, but it hasn't been clear who on Ron Paul's staff would be caught up in the scandal. At the time Benton served as the campaign's chairman, Tate as the campaign manager, and Kesari as the deputy campaign manager.
All three men were charged with criminal conspiracy and federal charges related to falsification of government records. Tate and Benton face charges of making false statements to federal investigators; Kesari was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to persuade Sorenson to deny the scheme when pressed by prosecutors.
According to the indictment, Sorenson negotiated with the Paul aides and eventually met with Kesari in an Iowa restaurant, where the Paul aide passed him a $25,000 check. The check was never cashed, however, and eventually wound up in the hands of an Iowa special prosecutor investigating a possible breach in ethics rules by Sorenson. Under federal law, the campaign could have legally paid Sorenson openly, but Iowa Senate rules prohibit lawmakers from receiving compensation for their endorsements. According to prosecutors, the campaign instead routed the payments through a Maryland audio visual company connected to Kesari's brother. During the course of the Iowa investigation, Sorenson acknowledged receiving $73,000 from the Maryland company, but couldn't explain why that was. Paul campaign records show the campaign paid the Maryland company roughly $82,000. Though Sorenson pleaded guilty to taking the money and lying to investigators about where it came from, his indictment did not name who authorized the payments.