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Head of pro-Rand Paul 'super PAC' charged with 2012 campaign violations

In a further blow to the fundraising efforts of GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the Justice Department on Wednesday indicted two leaders of his main "super PAC" on charges stemming from the 2012 campaign of Paul’s father, Ron Paul.

Jesse R. Benton of Louisville, Ky., and John M. Tate of Virginia were charged with covering up campaign payments to an Iowa state senator to persuade him to abandon his support for then-Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign and instead endorse Ron Paul. Benton was also charged with lying about it to the FBI.

They are the key people behind America’s Liberty Pac, the largest of the outside PACs supporting the Rand Paul 2016 campaign.

TRAIL GUIDE: All the latest news on the 2016 presidential campaign >>

Also indicted was another associate from the 2012 Ron Paul campaign, Dimitrios N. Kesari of Virginia.

As the 2016 campaign heats up, the indictment serves as a reminder to political operatives that the FBI is watching.

“Violating campaign finance laws by concealing payments to an elected official undermines our electoral system and deceives the public,” said David J. LeValley, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office. “The FBI will aggressively investigate those who corrupt the integrity of our democratic process.”

Benton is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter and has long been allied with the Paul family. Last year, news of the investigation into the 2012 payments forced Benton to resign as manager for now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign.

The indictments mark the latest problems for Rand Paul, who has been struggling to stand out in the crowded field of Republican candidates and has lagged well behind his rivals in fundraising.

Benton, Tate and Kesari are charged with hiding more than $70,000 in payments to an influential former state senator, Kent Sorenson, who has pleaded guilty in the case and cooperated in the investigation.

Benton could not be reached for comment.

The Rand Paul campaign released a statement calling the indictment  politically-movtivated.

"Sen. Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama Justice Department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate,'' the statement reads. "It certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated.  Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign."

Twitter: @timphelpsLAT

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:47 p.m.: This post has been updated with more background and reaction from the Paul campaign.

The first version of this post was published at 12:11 p.m.

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