A federal jury today convicted a political consultant for his role in funneling illegal foreign campaign contributions from a Russian foreign national to a 2016 presidential campaign.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Jessie R. Benton, 45, of The Woodlands, Texas, schemed with another political advisor to funnel political contributions to a 2016 presidential campaign from a Russian foreign national seeking to support, meet, and take a picture with the presidential candidate. Benton arranged for the Russian foreign national – whose nationality Benton concealed from the campaign and the candidate – to attend a political fundraising event for the campaign and to take a picture with the candidate.
As such attendance and engagement required a contribution, Benton caused the Russian foreign national to wire $100,000 to Benton’s political consulting firm for purposes of making an illegal foreign contribution to the campaign. To disguise the scheme, Benton created a fake invoice, which falsely identified the funds as payment for consulting services. Benton acted as a straw donor and contributed $25,000 of the Russian foreign national’s money to the campaign, falsely identified himself as the contributor, and pocketed the remaining $75,000. Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, the relevant campaign entities unwittingly filed reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that inaccurately reported Benton – instead of the Russian foreign national – as the source of the funds.
Benton was convicted of conspiring to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effecting a conduit contribution, and causing false records to be filed with the FEC. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 17, 2023, and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the top count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California, U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves for the District of Columbia, and Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI San Diego Field Office made the announcement.
The FBI San Diego Field Office investigated the case.
Trial Attorneys Rebecca G. Ross and Michelle K. Parikh of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle L. Wasserman for the Southern District of California, while serving in her capacity as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, are prosecuting the case.