RENO, Nev. (AP) — Ex-Nevada power broker Harvey Whittemore admitted he was “arrogant and naive” but insisted “I’m not greedy” before a judge sentenced him Monday to two years in prison for funneling more than $130,000 in illegal campaign funds to Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election committee in 2007.
U.S. District Court Judge Larry Hicks also ordered Whittemore to pay $100,000 in fines for his three felony convictions and serve 100 hours community service upon his release from a yet-to-be determined prison that houses white-collar criminals.
The 61-year-old former lobbyist and wealthy developer is to surrender on his own to federal authorities on Jan. 31, 2014.
“These offenses go to the very heart of our electoral process,” Hicks said.
Prosecutors said Whittemore gave money to family members and employees in 2007 to make contributions he had promised to Reid while concealing himself as the true source to skirt campaign finance laws.
Reid has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He has said he was unaware of any potential problems with the money he received.
Whittemore insisted through his lawyers he didn’t know he was breaking the law. He tearfully addressed the court for the first time directly for more than a half-hour of Monday’s six-hour sentencing hearing, halting several times to compose himself, remove his glasses to wipe his tears, and at one point check on a daughter who was crying in the courtroom gallery.
“Looking back, it was arrogant and naive to believe my conduct was lawful, but I cannot change that now. As a lawyer I gave myself bad advice,” Whittemore said. “I am sincerely, wholly sorry for my wrong decision and I’m here in a state of utter shame.”
Prosecutors wanted the judge to send Whittemore to prison for more than four years, while Whittemore’s lawyers argued he should be spared prison time based partly on his history of extraordinary charitable giving.
Whittemore was convicted in May on three felony counts related to his use of conduit, or “straw” donors, to take money he gave them and in turn write checks totaling more than $133,000 to Reid’s 2007 re-election campaign. The jury deadlocked on a fourth charge of lying to the FBI.
Hicks said he was deviating from the sentencing guidelines that suggested a minimum of 41 months in prison partly because of Whittemore’s history of extraordinary charitable giving — an estimated $12 million over the past 20 years, much of it to promote medical research, athletics and education at the University of Nevada, Reno. But the judge the crimes were too serious to justify probation without prison time.
“The evidence shows black and white where the money came from — from Mr. Whittemore to his friends and family and employees all for the purpose of them making phony contributions to Harry Reid,” Hicks said.
“Nobody is above the law. There simply must be just punishment for serious felony offense like these,” he said.
Prosecutors described Whittemore as a greedy, power-hungry, unrepentant crook whose “well-conceived and well-executed scheme” was intended to skirt federal election laws by hiding the true source of the money.
His “motivation to do so was not borne from political ideology, hero worship or naivete. Rather it was a knowing and cynical act, conceived in greed, arrogance and the lust for power,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said.
“He knew what he was doing was wrong but did it anyway,” he said.
Whittemore told the judge Monday he was “stunned” to hear prosecutors characterize him as greedy.
“I am not greedy,” he said. “I didn’t do this for greed. I didn’t do this for power. I didn’t do it for any other reason than a friend asked me to raise money. … I did it in a way that was wrong.”
Whittemore’s lawyers had argued Nevadans would be better served if he was sentenced to probation and community service so he can make up for his mistakes by continuing his philanthropy.
“Confinement would only serve to strip him of that productivity and arguably divest northern Nevada of one of its most active community leaders,” defense lawyer Dominic Gentile said.
“Let him do some good, judge,” Gentile said Monday. “Warehousing Harvey Whittemore isn’t going to do any good for anybody, certainly not in this community.”
Hicks said at the close of the sentencing he’d forgotten to add the 100 days of community service to the punishment. Whittemore responded, “Community service is not punishment, your honor.”
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