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September 23, 2014

High-profile commentator Dinesh D’Souza gets below-guideline probation sentence for violating federal campaign finance laws

As reported in this New York Times piece, headlined "D’Souza Is Spared Prison Time for Campaign Finance Violations," another notable white-collar defendant got a below-guideline federal sentence today thanks to judges now having broader post-Booker sentencing discretion. Here are the details:

The conservative author and documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was spared prison time on Tuesday after pleading guilty earlier this year to violating federal campaign finance laws.

Judge Richard M. Berman of Federal District Court in Manhattan handed down a probationary sentence — including eight months in a so-called community confinement center — and a $30,000 fine, bringing to a close a high-profile legal battle that started with Mr. D’Souza’s indictment in January for illegally using straw donors to contribute to a Republican Senate candidate in New York in 2012.

Mr. D’Souza, who has accused President Obama of carrying out the “anticolonial” agenda of his father, initially argued that he had been singled out for prosecution because of his politics. In April, his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, filed court papers contending that Mr. D’Souza’s “consistently caustic and highly publicized criticism” of Mr. Obama had made him a government target.

A month later, however, on the morning he was scheduled to go on trial, Mr. D’Souza pleaded guilty. “I deeply regret my conduct,” he told the court. Even with his fate hanging in the balance, Mr. D’Souza plowed ahead with his thriving career as a right-wing provocateur. Over the summer, while awaiting his sentencing, he published the book “America: Imagine a World Without Her,” which reached No. 1 on The New York Times’s nonfiction hardcover best-seller list, and a companion documentary film that has made $14.4 million at the box office.

The government charged Mr. D’Souza, 53, with illegally arranging to have two people — an employee and a woman with whom he was romantically involved — donate $10,000 each to the campaign of an old friend from Dartmouth College, Wendy E. Long, with the understanding that he would reimburse them in cash for their contributions. Ms. Long was challenging Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat.

According to prosecutors, Mr. D’Souza lied to Ms. Long about the donations, reassuring her that “they both had sufficient funds to make the contributions.” Ms. Long pressed Mr. D’Souza on the issue after the election, and he acknowledged that he had reimbursed the two people, the government said, but told Ms. Long not to worry because she had not known about it.

When Mr. D’Souza entered his guilty plea, Judge Berman said he could face up to two years in prison. The federal sentencing guidelines call for 10 to 16 months, but the final decision is up to the judge’s discretion. “Judges are all over the map on these reimbursement cases,” said Robert Kelner, a campaign-finance lawyer at Covington & Burling.

Mr. D’Souza’s lawyers asked for leniency, arguing in a court filing that their client had “unequivocally accepted responsibility” for his crime. “We are seeking a sentence that balances the crime he has regrettably committed with the extraordinary good Mr. D’Souza has accomplished as a scholar, as a community member and as a family member,” they wrote, requesting that he be sentenced to probation and community service at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego.

The government rebutted Mr. D’Souza’s claims, highlighting both the seriousness of his offense and what it called “the defendant’s post-plea failure to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct.” According to the government, Mr. D’Souza assumed a different posture with respect to his case when he was not before the court. It cited a television interview he gave two days after his plea in which he “repeatedly asserted that this case was about whether he was selectively prosecuted.”

This story reminds me why I am so sad Bill Otis no longer comments on this blog; I am so eager to hear from him directly whether he thinks this case is yet another example of, in his words, allowing "naïve and ideologically driven judges" to make sentencing determinations and therefore further justifies embracing mandatory sentencing schemes that would always require judges to impose prison terms on these sorts of non-violent offenders because these sorts of offenses do great harm even if they do not involve violence.

Based on my limited understanding of the crime and criminal here, I feel fairly confident asserting that a prison term for Mr. D’Souza would have achieved little more than spending extra federal taxpayer dollars without any real public safety return on that investment. But Bill and I rarely see eye-to-eye on these matters, and thus I am eager for a distinct perspective in this notable white-collar case.

September 23, 2014 at 03:38 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The article notes him getting time in a "so-called community confinement center" -- whatever that is.

He does seem of a sort for which even a short term in some form of confinement would have a serious penal effect. Certain people, let's not say him, might find even a few weekends in "prison" (or whatever this is) harder than some.

Anyway, the theater that is court is shown here -- he says one thing in court, one thing out. Such is not surprising. OTOH, in certain cases, some find it outrageous a person doesn't act the right way in court. They have to show a certain amount of regret etc. Some of this man's ideological brethren are included in this sentiment.

But, anyway, no surprise. And, I respect the ceremony. You have a certain responsibility in court, including under oath, even if you act differently elsewhere talking about the same things.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 23, 2014 6:26:24 PM

This Administration has zero business prosecuting GOPers doing this sort of thing. Obama's campaign website had the credit card fraud detection apparatus disabled so that overseas credit card donations could come in. But no prosecutions---and the Administration has the nerve to go after D'Souza?

Posted by: federalist | Sep 23, 2014 9:00:25 PM

Joe - "Community Confinement Center" is fed-speak for halfway house.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 24, 2014 8:03:32 AM

I appreciate it.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 24, 2014 10:21:04 AM

Even assuming, counterfactually, that federalist's premise were true, it would hardly follow that the Obama administration shouldn't prosecute low-level fraud and corruption. (Think of the implications.)

That aside, straight probation would have been more clearly appropriate here if D'Souza hadn't blown it by talking out of school. And though I admit that I too would have suspected there were political motivations behind the prosecution, that idea becomes pretty hard to sustain once you know that the investigation was due to a spontaneous tip from the guy whose wife D'Souza was expressing his family values with.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 24, 2014 3:10:41 PM

Really, Mr. Drake? It's common knowledge what the Obama campaign did. See, e.g., http://www.nationalreview.com/campaign-spot/329680/why-no-security-barackobamacom-donations

But hey, it's all good right.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 24, 2014 11:34:51 PM

"[I]t's all good" as long as you put words in your opponent's mouth, don't respond to their point, and cite articles that don't actually support your accusation. So yeah, it's all good, fed.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 25, 2014 12:09:03 PM

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