United States v. Benton, No. 16-3861

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
Writing for the CourtWOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.
Citation890 F.3d 697
Parties UNITED STATES of America Plaintiff–Appellee v. Jesse R. BENTON Defendant–Appellant United States of America Plaintiff–Appellee v. John Frederick Tate, also known as John M. Tate Defendant–Appellant United States of America Plaintiff–Appellee v. Dimitrios N. Kesari, also known as Dimitri Kesari Defendant–Appellant
Docket Number No. 16-3864, No. 16-3862,No. 16-3861
Decision Date11 May 2018

890 F.3d 697

UNITED STATES of America Plaintiff–Appellee
v.
Jesse R. BENTON Defendant–Appellant

United States of America Plaintiff–Appellee
v.
John Frederick Tate, also known as John M. Tate Defendant–Appellant

United States of America Plaintiff–Appellee
v.
Dimitrios N. Kesari, also known as Dimitri Kesari Defendant–Appellant

No. 16-3861
No. 16-3862
No. 16-3864

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

Submitted: April 6, 2017
Filed: May 11, 2018
Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 6, 2018*


Joseph Patrick Cooney, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, Richard C. Pilger, U.S. Department of Justice, Public Integrity Section, Washington, DC, Sonja Ralston, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff–Appellee.

Jesse R. Benton, Pro Se, Louisville, KY, Angela L. Campbell, Attorney, Gary Dean Dickey, Jr., Dickey & Campbell, Des Moines, IA, for Defendant–Appellant.

Before WOLLMAN and LOKEN, Circuit Judges, and NELSON,1 District Judge.

WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Jesse R. Benton, John Frederick Tate, and Dimitrios N. Kesari (Defendants) were convicted by a jury of causing false records, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1519 (Count 2); causing false campaign expenditure reports, in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), 52 U.S.C. §§ 30104(a)(1), (b)(5)(A), and 30109(d )(1)(A)(i) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count 3); engaging in a false statements scheme, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1001(a)(1) (Count 4); and conspiring to commit the offenses listed above, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 1). Defendants appeal, arguing that the district court2 erred in denying their motions to

890 F.3d 704

dismiss, for judgment of acquittal, and for a new trial; in instructing the jury; in issuing certain evidentiary rulings; in denying Tate's motion for severance; and in issuing a discovery ruling. We affirm.

I. Background

Defendants were officials with Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. Benton served as campaign chairman, Tate served as campaign manager, and Kesari served as deputy campaign manager. During the primary campaign for the Republican Party nomination, Defendants sought the endorsement of Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson, who had previously endorsed rival Republican candidate Michelle Bachmann and was employed as Bachmann's Iowa campaign chairman, in which capacity he worked seventy to eighty hours a week and was paid $7,500 a month.

On October 29, 2011, Aaron Dorr, the brother of Sorenson's legislative aide, Chris Dorr, emailed Tate a proposal, which stated that Sorenson would need to be paid a salary of $8,000 a month to endorse Paul, Chris Dorr would need to be paid a salary of $5,000 a month, and a $100,000 donation would need to be made to a political action committee established by Sorenson. Tate shared the proposal with Benton, among others, describing it as "insulting," "offensive," and "unethical," and stating that the Paul campaign could make a counter-proposal, simply refuse the proposal, or communicate the proposal to the press, which he believed "would destroy the Bachman[n] campaign, Kent, and possibly Aaron." In reply, Benton sent an email on October 31 addressed to Sorenson and Aaron and Chris Dorr, stating that although he was pleased that Sorenson was considering supporting Paul, he was surprised by the proposal because it appeared to be "trying to sell Kent's endorsement for hundreds of thousands of dollars and other in-kind support for future political ventures," which "would be unethical and illegal." Benton further stated that the Paul campaign "would be happy to employ [Sorenson] at fair market value," which the Bachmann campaign had set at $8,000 a month for Sorenson and $5,000 a month for Chris Dorr, and that Sorenson should respond to this offer by November 2. Later the same day, Kesari told Tate in an email that he and Sorenson had arranged to meet for dinner the following week. Tate responded by saying that Kesari should not "firm up anything yet."

Aaron Dorr responded to Benton's counter-offer on November 2, stating that he alone was responsible for the earlier proposal and that Sorenson was unaware of its details. He also stated that Sorenson would be unable to consider Benton's counter-offer until after November 8. Benton replied that the offer for Sorenson and Chris Dorr to join the Paul campaign remained open but that it would require a response by November 7.

On November 13, Benton emailed Tate and Kesari that he was considering telling the press about Sorenson's endorsement proposal in light of a "cheap shot" from Bachmann toward Paul. Tate replied that Benton should first contact Aaron Dorr regarding the possibility of Sorenson's endorsement. Kesari suggested that he could meet with Sorenson and Sorenson's wife, but Tate stated that Benton should contact Aaron Dorr instead, which Benton agreed to do that night. On November 15, after Dorr had failed to respond, Benton gave Kesari permission to meet with Sorenson and Sorenson's wife. Tate told Kesari, "Make sure you talk to Jesse about how we want to do this and what you are supposed to say. We need to be very careful." Kesari agreed to do so.

On November 21, Kesari emailed Tate and Benton that he had spoken with Sorenson

890 F.3d 705

and his family over dinner the previous evening and learned that Sorenson wanted to defect to the Paul campaign but in a way that would cause the least harm to Bachmann. Tate replied, "Seems to me, next step is to make him an offer (in person, not in writing) and give him a firm but polite deadline. In my view we would want it to occur after Christmas, a few days before Caucus." On December 23, Benton sent an email to Tate and others stating, "Sorenson is endorsing [Paul ] on Monday. We have his statement already."

Sorenson requested a meeting with Kesari on December 26. Kesari, Sorenson, and Sorenson's wife met at a restaurant to discuss Sorenson's endorsement of Paul. In Sorenson's absence, Kesari gave Sorenson's wife a $25,000 check made out to Grassroots Strategy, a corporation owned by Sorenson. After the meeting, Kesari sent an email to campaign staffers saying, "The deal is done. Please draft a press release and send to me and Jesse." Attached to the email was Sorenson's draft statement endorsing Paul.

On December 27, however, Kesari sent an email to Tate, Benton, and others saying, "Hold the release. Kent is getting cold feet. He wants to meet with me in about 2 hours. Any advice? Damn I was afraid of this." Tate asked, "Why is he getting cold feet? What can we do, say to help him? What time are you meeting him, and where?" Benton replied, "I am not interested in this game any more. Dimitri, pull the offer. If we can't depend on him, I don't want him involved." Benton then sent another email, saying, "In all seriousness, I am [not] sure what to do about this. The DMR [Des Moines Register ] has his statement, I sent last night since Kent said [he] [was] [c]omfortable." Benton told Tate and Kesari in subsequent emails that he was considering telling the press about Sorenson's request for payment if Sorenson did not uphold his agreement to endorse Paul.

According to Sorenson, he had a heated argument with Bachmann's campaign staff on December 28. Later that day, he drove to a rally for Paul at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. Sorenson met Kesari in the parking lot and asked if Kesari, Benton, and Tate were still "on board" with his endorsement of Paul; Kesari replied that they were. Sorenson spoke with Benton and Kesari in the backstage area of one of the buildings at the Fairgrounds, where Tate was also present. Sorenson testified that Benton told him something to the effect of, "[Y]ou bled for us, we'll take care of you," which Sorenson understood to mean that he would be "financially taken care of and politically taken care of." Sorenson thereafter went on stage and publicly endorsed Paul. Shortly after Sorenson's endorsement, Kesari sent an email to Fernando Cortes, the Paul campaign's assistant controller, requesting a $25,000 wire transfer for the next morning. Copies of the email were sent to Benton and Tate and stated that Benton had approved the wire. Tate replied the following day that the wire was approved. The Paul campaign issued a press release announcing Sorenson's endorsement.

After Sorenson endorsed Paul, members of the Bachmann campaign began telling the press that the Paul campaign had paid Sorenson for his endorsement. Responding to media inquiries, Benton stated that Sorenson would not be paid by the Paul campaign, in one instance explicitly denying that Sorenson would be paid a salary by the campaign. Tate sent an email to Benton, saying, "We need to make sure anyone asked about this ... is prepared to say the same thing. I would assume that is something like: The Ron Paul campaign has not and is not paying Kent for his endorsement. Kent decided to endorse

890 F.3d 706

Ron because blah blah blah. Short sweet and truthful."

On December 29, the Paul campaign issued a press release that included a statement from Sorenson that he "was never offered money from the Ron Paul campaign or anyone associated with them and certainly would never accept any." The statement further stated, ...

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24 practice notes
  • United States v. Singh, No. 17-50337
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 16, 2019
    ...court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when giving a jury instruction adopting the Bryan standard of willfulness. 890 F.3d 697, 715 (8th Cir. 2018). It rejected the defendant’s argument that "willfully" under FECA falls within the exception for highly technical stat......
  • United States v. Singh, No. 17-50337
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2020
    ...court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when giving a jury instruction adopting the Bryan standard of willfulness. 890 F.3d 697, 715 (8th Cir. 2018). It rejected the defendant's argument that "willfully" under FECA falls within the exception for highly technical stat......
  • United States v. Cutbank, 21-cr-268 (SRN/LIB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • June 17, 2022
    ...of charges or defendants raises a question that is addressed to the judicial discretion of the trial court .... United States v. Benton, 890 F.3d 697, 713-14 (8th Cir. 2018) (internal quotations omitted). Accordingly, if joinder is proper under Rule 8, a defendant seeking severance has the ......
  • FALSE STATEMENTS AND FALSE CLAIMS
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...the double jeopardy rule. United States v. Woodward, 469 U.S. 105, 108 (1985) (per curiam); see also, e.g., United States v. Benton, 890 F.3d 697, 713 (8th Cir. 2018) (rejecting double jeopardy challenge because convictions under campaign f‌inance, obstruction, and false statements statutes......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • United States v. Singh, No. 17-50337
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 16, 2019
    ...court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when giving a jury instruction adopting the Bryan standard of willfulness. 890 F.3d 697, 715 (8th Cir. 2018). It rejected the defendant’s argument that "willfully" under FECA falls within the exception for highly technical stat......
  • United States v. Singh, No. 17-50337
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2020
    ...court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when giving a jury instruction adopting the Bryan standard of willfulness. 890 F.3d 697, 715 (8th Cir. 2018). It rejected the defendant's argument that "willfully" under FECA falls within the exception for highly technical stat......
  • United States v. Cutbank, 21-cr-268 (SRN/LIB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • June 17, 2022
    ...of charges or defendants raises a question that is addressed to the judicial discretion of the trial court .... United States v. Benton, 890 F.3d 697, 713-14 (8th Cir. 2018) (internal quotations omitted). Accordingly, if joinder is proper under Rule 8, a defendant seeking severance has the ......
  • United States v. Prall, 1:19-CR-13-RP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • April 16, 2019
    ...the Fifth Circuit has not yet addressed this question, two other circuits have rejected similar arguments. See United States v. Benton, 890 F.3d 697,Page 10 711 (8th Cir. 2018) (rejecting the argument that FECA preempted enforcement under 18 U.S.C. § 1519); United States v. Rowland, 826 F.3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • FALSE STATEMENTS AND FALSE CLAIMS
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...the double jeopardy rule. United States v. Woodward, 469 U.S. 105, 108 (1985) (per curiam); see also, e.g., United States v. Benton, 890 F.3d 697, 713 (8th Cir. 2018) (rejecting double jeopardy challenge because convictions under campaign f‌inance, obstruction, and false statements statutes......
  • HEALTH CARE FRAUD
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304 (1932); see United States v. Woodward, 469 U.S. 105, 109 (1985); see also United States v. Benton, 890 F.3d 697, 713 (8th Cir. 2018) (rejecting double jeopardy challenge because convictions under campaign f‌inance, obstruction, and false statements statut......

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