RENO — One-time high-profile lobbyist Harvey Whittemore was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison on Monday for making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Whittemore, 61, his voice cracking with emotion, told Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks he was solely responsible for funneling more than $133,000 in contributions to Reid in 2007.
He asked Hicks for mercy and to sentence him to probation.
“I am sorry for the suffering and shame my family has endured as a result of these choices,” he said in comments to the court. “Please do not discount these three words ‘I am sorry.’
“These actions have altered the trajectory of my life.”
Hicks said in passing sentence it was “an incredible, intentional criminal act” that “goes to the heart of our electoral process.”
Whittemore was sentenced to 24 months on each of three felony counts, terms to be served concurrently.
Federal prosecutors had sought a sentence of 51 months for Whittemore, who several years ago was a frequent presence at the Nevada Legislature as a lobbyist on behalf of his many clients.
Early in the hearing, which lasted more than five hours, Hicks said he had received no letter from Reid regarding the sentencing.
The courtroom in U.S. District Court in Reno was packed with friends and family, including political advisers Pete Ernaut and Billy Vassiliadis, among others.
Defense attorney Dominic Gentile said nothing would be gained by sentencing Whittemore to prison.
“Has he sinned, Has he violated the law? The answer to that is yes,” Gentile said.
But, he added, “Warehousing Harvey Whittemore isn’t going to do anybody any good.”
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre argued for prison time, saying Whittemore “abused his power, he abused his wealth” and knowingly committed a felony.
Whittemore showed no remorse for his crimes until today, he said.
Whittemore has until Jan. 31 to report to serve his sentence. He is expected to go to Herlong Federal Correctional Institution in Susanville, Calif.
A federal jury in Reno convicted Whittemore on May 29 of unlawfully funneling $133,400 in contributions to Reid.
Whittemore was accused of giving money to 29 family members and employees of his former development company, Wingfield Nevada Group, and then using them as “conduits” for contributions to Reid’s campaign in 2007.
Federal prosecutors portrayed Whittemore in court documents last week as a greedy political insider who created the scheme out of his own “lust for power.”
Defense lawyers, who pushed for probation, described Whittemore as a charitable, community-minded family man who has led a “virtuous life” but for the aberration of his role in the scheme.
Whittemore, an attorney who became a wealthy developer after giving up his lobbying career, has vowed to appeal his conviction.
Whittemore was found guilty of three felony counts: making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another and causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission.
The jury reported it was deadlocked on the fourth count, making a false statement to the FBI. Hicks declared a mistrial on that count and later dismissed it.
In their court papers, Myhre and Eric Olshan, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, said the laws Whittemore broke struck at the heart of the nation’s election process. The laws were designed to provide a level playing field that gives the average citizen as much influence as the wealthy and politically connected, the prosecutors wrote.
Whittemore, the prosecutors, added, was driven by the need to “further ingratiate himself” with Reid, a longtime friend and powerful force on Capitol Hill.
Defense lawyers Gentile and Vincent Savarese said in court papers that Whittemore had suffered enough for his actions and didn’t deserve to spend time behind bars.
The criminal case left him humiliated, disgraced and without the immense political power he once wielded, according to the lawyers. He also is more than $1 million in debt and faces serious health problems, including diabetes and a heart condition, the lawyers wrote.
Whittemore was indicted in June 2012 after an FBI investigation into his 2007 fundraising efforts for Reid.
Prosecutors alleged during the two-week trial that Whittemore met with Reid at an upscale restaurant on the Strip in February 2007 and promised to raise $150,000 for the Nevada Democrat’s re-election campaign.
Whittemore hatched the conduit scheme days before the March 31, 2007, campaign contribution deadline without Reid’s knowledge in a desperate attempt to fulfill his promise to the influential senator, prosecutors alleged.
At the time, Whittemore was developing Coyote Springs, a master-planned community in Southern Nevada, and needed congressional help to overcome government hurdles.
Whittemore maintained during his trial that he did not “knowingly” violate campaign contribution laws and did nothing to hide his efforts to raise money for Reid.
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