Kent Sorenson (file photo)

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

Three men from Ron Paul’s campaign have been charged with concealing payments to an Iowa senator who switched his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul just before the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

In October of 2013, Republican Kent Sorenson of Milo resigned from the state senate, just after a special prosecutor appointed by the Iowa Supreme Court concluded he had been secretly paid by Ron Paul’s campaign.

Last August, Sorenson pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. There’s been speculation ever since that he’s been cooperating with federal officials on a wider investigation.

Today, the U.S. Justice Department announced three top officials on Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign are accused of criminal conspiracy and falsifying reports to the Federal Elections Commission. Two of those men have been running an independent “Super PAC” that’s raising money for the 2016 presidential campaign for Rand Paul.

Ron Paul says the timing is “highly suspicious” because the indictments came just before tomorrow’s televised debate that will feature his son on stage with nine other Republican presidential hopefuls. A spokesman for Rand Paul issued a statement saying the charges are about activities in 2012 that have nothing to do with Rand Paul’s 2016 campaign.

Jesse Benton — one of the men charged — is a member of the extended Paul family. He’s married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, who is Rand Paul’s niece. Under federal law, Sorenson could have been paid for working on either Bachmann’s or Paul’s presidential campaign back in 2012, but Iowa Senate ethics rules forbid senators from being paid directly by a campaign. The alleged deal routed the campaign’s payments to Sorenson through two out-of-state companies.

Sorenson could face up to 25 years in prison on the charges he pleaded guilty to last year. Sorenson has failed two court-ordered drug tests since then and last month he was arrested after an incident with his wife. A judge has ordered Sorenson to live with his mother until his sentencing.

Sorenson was considered an influential figure among conservative Republicans in early 2011 when he signed on as Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman.  Under questioning from the special prosecutor in 2013, Sorenson said he might have been a contender in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race in 2014 if it weren’t for the allegations he was facing.