Convicted Ron Paul Aides Seek to Void Jury Verdict

     DES MOINES, IOWA (CN) — Three campaign aides for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential run seek acquittal or new trials after being convicted in federal court earlier this month of election law violations.
     The aides claim the guilty verdicts they received were based on outright wrongdoing, unreliable witness testimony and improper jury instructions.
     The federal government prosecuted campaign chairman Jesse Benton, campaign manager John Tate and deputy campaign manager Dimitrios Kesari for allegedly funneling $73,000 through ICT Inc., a video production company, to pay Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to switch his allegiance from Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., to Texas Rep. Ron Paul ahead of the state’s Iowa caucuses.
     Sorenson later resigned from office after Iowa’s Senate Ethics committee found probable cause that he violated state ethics rules by taking payments from Bachmann and Paul’s presidential campaigns, and that “his denials of doing so constituted felonious misconduct in office.”
     Despite Sorenson’s downfall and their conviction, the campaign aides still contend they did nothing illegal.
     “The Government is using this case in an improper attempt to change a law it finds distasteful,” Kesari claims in his 11-page brief, filed on Thursday.
     Benton and Tate filed for acquittal or new trials the same day and received permission to submit additional briefs on Friday.
     It is not illegal to pay a vendor through a third party, Kesari’s brief insists, and election law only requires that records be made of the recipients of cut checks, the check’s amount and the reason for the payment.
     “Frustrated that Congress and the F.E.C. [Federal Elections Commission] have decided not to prohibit the normal practice of paying vendors through third parties, the Government comes before this Court (in an apparent first of its kind prosecution) seeking that its proposed rule be adopted by judicial fiat,” Kesari argues. “In essence, the Government is asking the Court to close a loophole in the law (that loophole being the lack of a prohibition against paying vendors through a third party for the purpose of hiding the ultimate payee) that it finds distasteful.” (emphasis in original)
     Kesari says closing such a loophole remains the prerogative of Congress, not the courts.
     To this end, Kesari also claims the jury was incorrectly instructed on the applicable law. “The Court declined to instruct the jury that the law does not prohibit federal campaign committees from using conduits, pass-through, or paymasters when paying vendors and sub-vendors. . . . The Court also did not issue an instruction explaining that there is no obligation to disclose an expense to the F.E.C. until the campaign has made payment to the vendor, regardless of when an invoice was received or whether a future payment was anticipated,” Kesari wrote.
     In Tate’s 37-page brief, he argues that the government failed to prove that he had sufficient understanding of elections law to violate it.
     “The government failed to put on any evidence that Mr. Tate knew the reporting requirements related to expenditures under FECA [The Federal Elections Campaign Act],” he claims. “Nor did the government put on evidence that Mr. Tate realized that approving payments to ICT, which ultimately went to Sorenson, was prohibited by law. There was no evidence that Tate had anything to do with how those payments were characterized on the FEC reports.”
     Tate also claims he did not know of the connection between ICT and Sorenson when he approved the wire transfers to the video production company.
     “Tate never approved any payment to ICT unless it was first accompanied by a representation by Kesari that the payment had already been approved by Mr. Benton,” according to Tate’s brief. “Acting upon a false representation is not acting willfully to violate the law.”
     Because of this, Tate argues an intent instruction should have been given to the jury regarding the charges against him.
     Tate also claims his lack of culpability entitled him to a trial that was severed from that of the co-defendants.
     Benton’s 27-page brief contends the government’s key witness former state Sen. Kent Sorenson committed perjury, changing his story about whether Benton had been on the line when the aides allegedly encouraged him to lie to the media phone records revealed that Benton had not been present for the alleged conversations. Sorenson also changed his story about whether he had met personally with Ron Paul during the 2011 lead-up to his presidential run, according to Benton.
     “Sorenson is simply not a credible witness,” Benton’s brief claims. “In such a circumstance, judicial interference with the verdict is appropriate and a new trial is warranted.”
     Kesari also attacks the government’s reliance on Sorenson’s testimony.
     “The Government spent a great deal of time highlighting that Kent Sorenson wished to be paid and that he went to the media claiming that he was not being paid,” Kesari’s brief says. “It placed special emphasis on emails telling staff members to wipe payments ‘from the books’ that were never made … there was never any obligation on behalf of the campaign to report anything having to do with Mr. Sorenson … in December 2011.”
     Kesari’s attorney could not be reached by phone Monday evening and did not respond to an email request for comment.
     The Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.
     If the men’s convictions are upheld, they could face up to 20 years in prison for filing false campaign records.
     Their sentencing is currently scheduled for September 20.
     Judicial responses to the briefs are due on May 31.

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