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Feds told that Gaetz, lobbyist discussed running sham candidate in state Senate race: report

Federal investigators were told that Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz compares allegations against him to earmarks: 'Everybody knows that that's the corruption' Space Force commander removed after comments on podcast Gaetz associate to cooperate with investigation, plead guilty to child sex trafficking MORE (R-Fla.) discussed running a sham candidate in the 2020 state Senate race with a lobbyist, two people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.

The Times reported that the Florida Republican discussed the possibility of running a sham candidate with lobbyist Christ Dorworth to help Jason Brodeur, an associate of Gaetz’s, win an open seat in the Florida state Senate.

A third-party candidate named Jestine Iannotti was on the ballot in that election, according to the Times. The candidate did not raise much money for her bid and did little campaigning, according to the paper. 

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Flyers sent to voters depicted her as a Democrat, though she had no party affiliation. One flyer portrayed a Black woman and said “Jestine Iannotti will always be there for us.”

The Times pointed out that the real Iannotti is white.

The newspaper notes that while it is not illegal to recruit a third-party candidate to run for office to draw votes away from another candidate, it is illegal to pay "ghost" candidates to run in this way. 

It is unclear based on the Times's report if money was discussed to pay Iannotti to run. 

A spokesperson for Brodeur told the Times that he knew nothing about the flyers and had nothing to do with them.

Dorworth told the Times that he didn’t recall a conversation with Gaetz and that he never met the candidate or communicated with them.

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He also said he never gave Iannotti money and that “there would be nothing illegal about it if we had,” as long as they didn’t pay her to seek office.

According to USA Today, Brodeur won 50.3 percent of the vote over Democrat Patricia Sigman, who won 47.6 percent. Iannotti only won around 5,700 votes, representing 2.1 percent.

The Hill has reached out to Gaetz and Dorworth for comment. 

The newest tip about the state Senate race could be a potential allegation that is part of a broad investigation by the Justice Department into allegations of sex trafficking involving Gaetz. 

Joel Greenberg, a former Florida county tax collector who is affiliated with Gaetz, has been charged with sex trafficking and is expected to strike a plea deal. 

Gaetz has faced intense scrutiny since the Times first reported the inquiry.

The Daily Beast reported on Thursday that Gaetz sent two $900 Venmo transactions to Greenberg in 2018, who later sent the same amount of cash to teenage girls.

Gaetz has strongly denied the allegations against him, and has said he will not resign.