Capitol Alert

Prison not recommended for Rep. Bera’s dad in election fraud sentence

A battle appears to be looming between federal prosecutors and probation authorities over whether the father of Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, should go to prison for election fraud involving the finances of his son’s campaign committee.

A probation officer’s advice to the sentencing judge that Babulal Bera should be spared prison has drawn fire from prosecutors as Bera’s Aug.18 sentencing approaches.

In a document filed Thursday in Sacramento federal court, prosecutors attacked the officer’s recommendation of “non-custodial probation” as “unsupported by the facts of this case and the serious nature of the defendant’s offense.”

The prosecutors point out that in the same pre-sentence report to U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley, the probation officer says the advisory guideline range for Bera, 83, is a prison term of between three years and 10 months and four years and nine months.

As reasons for the extreme leniency, the probation officer cites two sections of the federal sentencing guidelines addressing a defendant’s age and “family ties and responsibilities,” the prosecutors say. They give no further details.

In Thursday’s filing, the prosecutors assure Nunley they do not object to incarceration below the guideline range and, consistent with their obligation under a plea deal with Bera, they will be recommending such a term.

John Vincent, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office, told Nunley at a May plea hearing that his office has agreed to recommend no more than 2 1/2 years.

With Ami Bera in the midst of a race to retain his 7th Congressional District seat, Babulal Bera pleaded guilty and admitted that during his son’s 2010 and 2012 campaigns he recruited friends, family members and acquaintances to contribute maximum amounts allowable to the campaign committee and then he repaid the donors out of his own pocket.

He thus circumvented federal law that sets limits on contributions from individuals and prohibits contributions under another name.

The maximum sentence on each of the two felony counts to which Bera pleaded guilty is five years in prison.

Ami Bera said Friday via email: “My father made a grave mistake, but I’m thankful that he’s accepted responsibility and I trust our system to come to a fair resolution.”

Ami Bera is running for re-election this year against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican.

Jones said Friday that it’s difficult for him to advocate that an 83-year-old man go to prison, “since I do not believe that he was solely complicit.”

“That being said, I can understand the frustration when it appears that the wealthy and elite receive special consideration,” Jones said.

Prosecutors promise in their filing that their objections to the probation officer’s recommendation will be “more fully explained in the sentencing memorandum that will be filed with the court at a later date.”

Thursday’s document, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Ferrari, also challenges the fine recommended by the probation officer as $30,200 below the minimum allowable under the guidelines.

Ami Bera, who lost the 2010 race, but won in 2012 and 2014, said at the time of the May plea hearing he was not aware of his father’s kickback scheme. Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said then that there is no evidence Ami Bera knew of the fraud.

“I wish we knew what he was doing. I wish somebody had told me, because we would have put a stop to it,” the congressman said in a May telephone interview with The Sacramento Bee.

​He said his father has been an “active fundraiser. I think he was excited that his son was running for Congress ... I am devastated that this happened.”

A written plea agreement signed by Babulal Bera says $268,726 was contributed by the straw donors during the two campaigns, and he gave back all but $5,326.

​The agreement says the government “has identified over 130 improper campaign contributions involving approximately 90 contributors,” but those names and each individual’s contributions have never been made public. None of the bogus donors have ever been charged, even though Talbert has acknowledged they “knew what was going on.”

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189

Related stories from Sacramento Bee