Originally posted at The New York Times.
A Democratic fund-raiser and high-profile hotelier, Sant Singh Chatwal, who had pleaded guilty to skirting federal campaign-finance laws and witness tampering, avoided being sent to prison on Thursday, despite facing a possible sentence of more than five years.
Judge I. Leo Glasser, of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, sentenced Mr. Chatwal to three years of probation. The judge described Mr. Chatwal’s crimes as an “aberrance,” and seemed swayed by the 272 letters written on his behalf; by the argument that his grown sons needed Mr. Chatwal’s help at home; and by the fact that Mr. Chatwal did not seem to personally benefit from his campaign contributions.
Mr. Chatwal, 70, is the president of Hampshire Hotels and Resorts, and his business consists of 12 hotels and 36 restaurants and bars. He leads a lively social life, as seen in the New York Magazine feature on his son Vikram’s wedding and in state dinners at the White House.
He pleaded guilty in April to sending more than $180,000 in campaign contributions from 2007 to 2011 to three federal candidates, identified as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Representative Kendrick B. Meek of Florida. There is a limit on how much individuals can contribute to campaigns, so Mr. Chatwal devised an illegal straw donor scheme, prosecutors said, asking acquaintances to give, then reimbursing them.
Without money, “nobody will even talk to you,” Mr. Chatwal said of politicians in recordings made by the government.
The plea agreement initially called for a sentence of 46 to 57 months, based on federal guidelines. On Thursday, new calculations — based on a lower offense level — called for a sentence of 15 to 21 months.
Prosecutors, in their sentencing memorandum, said the defense’s attempt to get a lighter sentence served “to perpetuate the corrosive perception that there is one set of rules for the rich and powerful, and another for everyone else.”
The witness-tampering charge came from instructions Mr. Chatwal gave to a government cooperator not to tell the government the truth about the campaign contributions.
Mr. Chatwal’s lawyer, Jonathan S. Sack, said the recordings showed only that Mr. Chatwal was sanguine about the political process. “In order to participate in the political system and have relationships with elected officials, one makes contributions,” he said.
His lawyers also noted that his grown sons, Vivek, 39, and Vikram, 42, were “dependent on their parents — in particular, on their father,” they wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Vikram Chatwal, a former model and actor who has dated celebrities like Gisele Bündchen and now works in the hotel business, “while able to pursue business interests when healthy, has suffered from severe alcohol and drug dependence for more than a decade,” the submission read.
Vivek Chatwal, whose wedding at the Tavern on the Green was attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton and Senator Charles E. Schumer, is afflicted with a disease or problem that was excised from the sentencing memorandum, but requires treatment by psychiatrists. “Vivek cannot be left alone,” the document noted, explaining that he is brought daily to Mr. Chatwal’s office where he or an employee watches him.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Chatwal’s family circumstances were not enough to justify a lighter sentence. In their sentencing memorandum, they described Mr. Chatwal as “intoxicated by proximity” to people with power, and argued that the public deserved transparency in their electoral process.
Judge Glasser seemed to take the position that the electoral process had become more opaque in recent years. He pointed to two recent articles in The New York Times that discussed how hidden donors were influencing the political process, along with the recent Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon, as evidence of how much had changed since the law that Mr. Chatwal was charged with violating was passed in the 1970s.
In Mr. Chatwal’s case, “the amount which is involved pales in the light of the multimillion-dollar contributions being made regularly” through political action committees, Judge Glasser said.
Along with his probation, Mr. Chatwal was also fined $500,000 and must perform 1,000 hours of community service.
Read more at The New York Times.
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