SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The father of a California congressman was sentenced Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison after prosecutors said he illegally funneled nearly $270,000 in contributions to his son’s campaigns.
A federal judge also fined Babulal Bera $100,000 for violating federal election laws, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove was not charged and has denied knowing about his father’s activities. Prosecutors said they have found no evidence that he was involved.
Bera is running for a third two-year term against Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who has suggested his rival must have known about the scheme.
Babulal Bera of La Palma pleaded guilty in May to making excessive campaign contributions and making contributions in someone else’s name.
He acknowledged that he arranged for friends, relatives and acquaintances to contribute more than $225,000 to his son’s failed 2010 campaign for a House seat and then illegally reimbursing the donors.
He did it again with more than $43,000 for his son’s successful 2012 campaign, when Ami Bera defeated Republican Congressman Dan Lungren on the second try.
“This is one of the most difficult moments my family has ever experienced,” Ami Bera said in a statement. “Of course I’m absolutely devastated and heartbroken for how today’s decision will impact our entire family. But my father’s accepted what he did was wrong, he’s taken responsibility, and I love him more than words can express.”
Investigators found more than 130 improper campaign contributions involving about 90 contributors, according to a plea agreement in the case. Campaign officials said they reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for the amount of the illegal donations, as required by law.
Prosecutors sought the one-year prison term, while probation officers and defense attorneys said the 83-year-old Bera should be spared incarceration because of his age, poor health and because his 82-year-old wife could not live without him.
“That sentence, which is significant given this defendant’s age, sends a clear message that campaign finance crimes are serious offenses that will result in real consequences,” Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said in a statement.
Prosecutors said a prison sentence was needed because of the seriousness of the crime and noted they sought a shorter sentence than the maximum 2 1/2 years allowed under Bera’s plea agreement in May. The maximum prison sentence on each of his two felony counts is five years.
As part of the plea deal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed not to charge his wife.
Jones called it “a very serious crime committed to further Ami Bera’s political ambitions. I am sorry to hear that at 83 years old, Mr. Bera will be going to prison for a crime I do not believe he alone is responsible for.”
Babulal Bera’s attorney, Edward Loya, declined comment.
Democrats hold a 5 percentage point advantage in voter registration in the suburban Sacramento 7th Congressional District.
However, Bera’s campaign has been shadowed this year by his father’s actions and by criticism from some labor organizations over his support for Democratic President Barack Obama’s foreign trade agenda.
By DON THOMPSON