Political consultant James “Eric” Foglesong, accused of helping put a “ghost candidate”on a ballot to siphon off votes from a Democratic candidate in a state Senate race in Central Florida, pleaded not guilty to election finance-related charges Tuesday.
Foglesong entered the plea during an arraignment hearing at the Seminole County Courthouse, his first court appearance.
In May, prosecutors filed charges against Foglesong; the candidate, Jestine Iannotti; and Seminole County Republican Party chairman Ben Paris.
The trio were charged in a case where prosecutors allege they filed false campaign reports for a 2020 election, in which Iannotti was an independent candidate in a what was tight Senate contest between Republican Jason Brodeur, who won, and Democrat Patricia Sigman.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Iannotti illegally accepted a $1,200 cash donation from Foglesong for her campaign. Iannoitti and Foglesong falsely used the names of others as contributors in state campaign finance reports to skirt Florida laws on campaign contributions, the FDLE said.
The Seminole County race was one of three state Senate races where independent candidates filed to run but did not campaign in 2020.
The candidates were promoted in an advertising blitz paid for by a dark money nonprofit group run by consultants working closely with Florida Power & Light, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
In one of the other races, former state Sen. Frank Artiles is accused of bribing a friend to run. Artiles has also pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial next month.
Iannotti and Paris, who worked for Brodeur at the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce, have entered not guilty pleas.
The district, SD 9, covered Seminole County, in the 18th Judicial Circuit, and a small part of southern Volusia County, in the 7th Judicial Circuit.
In the 2020 SD 9 election, Brodeur received 50.3% of the vote. Sigman earned 47.5% support and Iannotti garnered 2.1%.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.