A staffer from Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign is headed to prison for his role in a conspiracy that falsified Federal Election Commission reports. Unlike his two co-defendants who only got probation, Dimitri Kesari will serve three months behind bars.
At the sentencing hearing, federal Judge John Jarvey described Ron Paul's former deputy campaign manager as the scheme's "architect.” He noted that Kesari went to considerable lengths to conceal payments to a state senator in exchange for him leaving the Michele Bachmann campaign and endorsing Ron Paul.
“The offense strikes at the heart of the need for transparency,” said Jarvey.
Kesari, along with Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton and Campaign Manager John Tate, used campaign funds to pay State Sen. Kent Sorenson of Milo to abandon Bachmann for Paul shortly before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
These payments were not illegal. But to make it appear that Sorenson left Bachmann due to political ideology, the payments were funneled through a third party and then recorded in FEC reports as audio-visual expenses.
As part of a plea deal with the Department of Justice, Sorenson testified on behalf of the prosecution during the trial that his payments were disguised so as to not tip off the press.
In a letter to the judge, Kesari admitted that he was more at fault than Benton and Tate in orchestrating Sorenson’s defection and covering up the payments
“I found that an honorable thing for you to do,” said Jarvey in reference to the letter.
On Tuesday both Tate and Benton were sentenced to two years of probation, 80 hours of community service per year, and each must pay a $10,000 fine. When released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Kesari will also have two years of probation, the same community service, and pay the same fine.
Prosecutors asked for prison time for all three men, who could have potentially served decades behind bars for their felony convictions.
During his sentencing hearing Kesari’s priest and two of his business colleagues testified on behalf of his character, highlighting his community service work and friendship. Kesari pleaded to not be sent to prison, saying that his family needed him.
“I screwed up. I made a bad mistake…I’ll be paying for it the rest of my life,” said Kesari. “I ask you not to judge me just on what I did, but by my whole life.”
“Mr. Kesari stands out as the trigger man,” said Richard Pilger of the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch. “This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.”
Pilger told Jarvey that by sentencing Kesari to prison for his “calculated crime,” other political operatives would be deterred from similar actions.
Court documents show that all three defendants plan to appeal their convictions. They contend that while the reasons they paid Sorenson were unsavory, for a campaign to compensate a consultant through a sub vendor is not illegal.
Kesari's attorney Jesse Binnall says there are many similarities with his client's case and that of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict in which the McDonnells were found guilty of accepting gifts and loans in exchange for political favors. The high court ruled that the statutory term "official act" was too broad, and could include nearly any action by a public official.
"There are a lot of analogies," says Binnall in reference to his client's case and the McDonnells.
"Some very vague statues can be used here to criminalize politics."
It has yet to be determined when Kesari will self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons. He plans to appeal this imprisonment, saying he shouldn't have to go to jail until the pending legal questions are heard by a higher court.