Seminole County Republican Party Chair Ben Paris said Wednesday he intends to stay on as Chairman and fight against a misdemeanor charge brought against him in the “ghost candidate” case of Senate District 9.
For now, the Seminole County Republican Executive Committee is standing with Paris, newly charged but not convicted of making a contribution under a false name and address to the campaign of SD 9 independent candidate Jestine Iannotti.
On Tuesday, Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Phil Archer announced indictments against Iannotti, Paris and political consultant Eric Foglesong for a variety of charges related to Iannotti’s 2020 campaign.
Paris, 38, of Longwood, received only one of those charges — a misdemeanor of making an election contribution through the name of another.
Iannotti, 36, of Winter Springs, was charged with six counts, including making false, fictitious or fraudulent acts or statements, improper acceptance of donations, and perjury. Foglesong, 45, of Winter Park, was charged with improper contributions to a campaign, making false, fictitious or fraudulent acts, statements or representations, making improper cash contributions, and making false reports.
Late Tuesday, Paris resigned his day job as vice president of operations at the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce.
On Wednesday, Paris said in texts that he intended to fight the charge against him and to stay on as head of the county’s Republican Party.
For now, several Seminole Republican Party leaders expressed support for Paris and dismissed the charge against him as both minor and not adjudicated.
“Our party believes in election integrity and the presumption of innocence,” said Seminole County Republican State Committeeman Jesse Phillips. “We support the truth coming out as the legal process moves forward in full transparency.”
Still, others in the always-factional county party reportedly are seeking to build a coalition to demand his resignation. The indictments came at a time that was already internally contentious for Seminole Republicans. Just last week, Paris and the Republican Party of Florida put down an attempted call for a Seminole County REC special meeting to challenge party leadership.
In announcing the charges Tuesday, Archer referred to “‘ghost’ candidates … used by political parties as a way to close elections or siphon off votes.” That had been asserted by Democrats for more than 18 months, since Iannotti’s independent candidacy drew outside campaigning from a dark-money political action committee.
She had run in a highly-contested SD 9 contest between Republican Jason Brodeur, who is president of the Seminole County Chamber, and Democrat Patricia Sigman, an employment and labor lawyer. In the 2020 SD 9 General Election, Brodeur received 50.3% of the vote. Sigman earned 47.5% support and Iannotti garnered 2.1%.
The charges focus specifically on whether Iannotti, Foglesong and Paris illegally funneled $1,200 into Iannotti’s official campaign fund in June 2020 to help her afford to open a campaign.
Seminole Democrats had been calling for charges in the Iannotti campaign for some time. Seminole County Democratic Party Chair Lynn Moira Dictor stopped just short of calling for Paris’ resignation.
“I am surprised that he is not gracious enough to step down and is tainting his party,” Dictor said.