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Jury Deliberations Begin In Ron Paul Staffer Trial

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The jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon in the federal conspiracy trial of three senior staffers from Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign. 

Campaign Director John Tate, Campaign Chair Jesse Benton and Campaign Deputy Director Demitri Kesari are accused disguising payments to former state senator Kent Sorenson in exchange for his endorsement.  

Since paying Sorenson would not reflect well on Ron Paul and ruin the staffers' professional reputations, prosecutors say Sorenson's payments were listed as audio-visual expenses. This caused the creation and submission of false Federal Election Commission reports, a federal offense. 

Sorenson plead guilty on related charges as part of a 2014 plea deal, and the prosecution used his testimony along with emails, invoices and phone records in their effort to convince jurors Tate, Benton and Kesari orchestrated a cover up.

"These three knew exactly how it worked," said Justice Department attorney J.P. Cooney. "Follow the money."

The defense argued none of the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt the staffers knowingly broke the law, since none of them were involved in the campaign’s accounting. Defense attorneys also discussed Sorenson’s history of lying to the media and under oath, and alleged that Sorenson had blackmailed Kesari into paying him thousands of dollars. 

"Kent Sorenson's word means nothing," said Jesse Benton's lawyer Angela Campbell. "Demitri Kesari made a mistake and gave a snake a check."

Attorneys for Tate and Benton also told the jury that Kesari had lied to his co-defendants. They said while Kesari did not knowingly break the law, he went behind everyone’s backs to pay Sorenson and therefore their clients did not cause the payments to be listed incorrectly on the FEC reports.   

As jurors must return verdicts on 11 charges, a lengthy deliberation is expected.

This is the second trial in this case. The first concluded in October with a hung jury on three counts and one guilty verdict for Demitri Kesari. He faces up to 20 years in prison.