A federal parole officer has recommended that lobbyist Harvey Whittemore be sentenced to 51 months in prison.
That’s one month longer than former Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera received. Herrera took at least $60,000 in bribes, lied on the witness stand and did other nasty things as well.
I can’t believe U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks of Reno, the trial judge in both cases, will follow the recommendation from Wendy Beckner, a Las Vegas probation officer.
Hicks can’t possibly equate campaign contributions violations by Whittemore with overt corruption by Herrera, who sought not only cash from a strip club owner in exchange for his votes, but was willing to trade his votes for sexual favors.
The 51-month recommendation is not yet officially public, but I trust my source.
Whittemore, a prominent Reno lawyer and lobbyist before he decided to become a Southern Nevada land developer, was found guilty of funnelling $138,000 in campaign contributions through 29 people — family, employees and their spouses — to fulfill a commitment he made to raise $150,000 for U.S.Sen. Harry Reid’s 2008 campaign. In 2007, when Whittemore did it, conduit contributions were a crime.
But in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized any amount of corporate contributions to political action committees. So today, Whittemore could just write a $150,000 check on one of his companies to a PAC, and that would be legal. No need to go through the charade of having others donate.
Whittemore faces a potential of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of three counts — making unlawful campaign contributions to Reid, making contributions in the name of others and causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission.
Let’s compare that to what developer Jim Rhodes received for doing the same thing, albeit with smaller sums. Rhodes in 2002 used 14 of his employees to donate $27,000 to the above-mentioned bad guy Herrera, and another $10,000 to Reid. His evil deed was handled civilly, and he settled by paying a $159,000 fine to the FEC.
Ramon DeSage and his company, Cadeau Express, pleaded guilty to using five people to funnel $5,000 to presidential contender Robert Dole in 1996. He and his company paid $205,000 in criminal and civil penalties. He served no time. (This year, DeSage has been charged with defrauding investors out of $190 million and evading $31 million in taxes.)
Ray Novell pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors for arranging for $10,000 in illegal conduit contributions to Dole’s campaign. He and DeLuca Liquor and Wine paid a total of $160,000 in criminal and civil fines for reimbursing the donors, employees and spouses.
Recent sentences in other jurisdictions for conduit contributions have involved larger sums and drew tougher sentences.
A Virginia man who funneled $186,600 to the Obama campaign was sentenced to 28 months and fined $50,000.
Washington lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti made more than $386,000 in conduit contributions to various campaigns over six years. His crimes were described as one of the largest conduit frauds in history. His sentence was 27 months and a $75,000 fine.
Magliocchetti’s illegal contributions were nearly three times that of Whittemore’s, yet he was sentenced to half the time now being sought for Whittemore, a recomendation the judge is not obliged to follow.
How can Whittemore’s crime equal that of Herrera’s, who violated the public’s trust?
I’ve seen Judge Hicks in action and trust his common sense when he sentences Whittemore on Sept. 23. Hicks is not bound by the probation officer’s recommendation or even by what the prosecutors argue for. Judges have flexibility.
But a 51-month prison sentence for Whittemore is over the top.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.