NEW YORK—On the day his trial was supposed to begin, conservative commentator and former Christian college president Dinesh D’Souza instead pleaded guilty to orchestrating illegal campaign contributions.
District Judge Richard Berman scheduled a sentencing for D’Souza in late September, and he faces 10 to 16 months in prison.
“We are hopeful that Judge Berman will recognize Mr. D’Souza to be a fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive and responsible life,” Benjamin Brafman, D’Souza’s lawyer, said in a statement. D’Souza declined to comment after the hearing.
Brafman gave no insight into the decision to plead after he had said at the end of last week, “We have always thought this should be decided before a jury.” The plea deal paperwork was filed with the court on Sunday. “We accept the fact that the government can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said in court Tuesday. D’Souza has a new movie, America, coming out in July and perhaps did not want the media attention that comes with a trial.
“Given the technical nature of the charge, there was no defense,” Brafman said in a statement after the hearing.
D’Souza recited his wrongdoings in pleading guilty before the judge.
“In August of 2012, in the Southern District of New York, I caused two close associates to contribute $10,000 each to the U.S. Senate campaign of Wendy Long, with the understanding that I would reimburse them for their contributions,” he said. “I did reimburse them. I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids. I deeply regret my conduct.”
Neither D’Souza’s ex-wife, Dixie D’Souza, nor his former mistress, Denise Joseph, were present for the proceedings, though both were potential witnesses in the case. U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen, who has handled the prosecution, explained that the government would have called Joseph as a witness along with Tyler Vawser, D’Souza’s former assistant at The King’s College, whom D’Souza used to make a straw donation of $10,000. According to the government, Vawser would have testified that D’Souza told him to lie about the contribution if he was questioned. The government also planned to call Long, who would have testified that D’Souza did not tell her the origins of the donations when she asked about them. Long lost her 2012 race against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand by a huge margin.
“Those requests [for straw donations] were made in the Southern District of New York, at The King’s College,” Cohen said.
The government apparently did not insist on D’Souza acknowledging he had exceeded federal campaign contribution limits. Making a straw donation is a felony in itself. In accepting the plea, D’Souza waives his right to appeal. He remains under his current bail conditions, which means his travel is restricted to the United States, and he must get court approval to travel domestically.
D’Souza’s case suffered a blow last week when Berman rejected his motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that D’Souza was being selectively prosecuted for his conservative politics. Berman, citing a number of other cases where defendants were found guilty for improper campaign donations amounting to less than $20,000, said there was no evidence of selective prosecution.