Babulal Bera, father of Rep. Ami Bera, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison for organizing a money-laundering scheme that helped fund two of his son’s campaigns, media reports here said.
It was a sentence that defense attorneys for Bera, 83, a retired chemical engineer who emigrated from India and watched his oldest son win election to the U.S. House of Representatives, argued was too severe, but one U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley said was appropriate.
“The defendant’s efforts were calculated,” Nunley said during the sentencing hearing in Sacramento. “This is more than just a naive person who doesn’t know how elections work.”
Babulal Bera allegedly funneled about $260,000 to his son’s bids for Congress in 2010 and 2012. Babulal Bera and his wife made the maximum allowable contribution of $2,400 each election cycle. He then asked family members and friends to also make the maximum contribution and said he would pay them back the full amount. In May, Babulal Bera pleaded guilty to two counts of violating federal campaign finance laws. His son is the sole Indian American in Congress.
Bera cannot appeal his conviction on campaign finance fraud or his one-year prison sentence, which begins on Nov. 18. The plea agreement notes that the maximum sentence would have been five years in federal prison.
In all, prosecutors said they were able to track at least $260,000 in illegal contributions funneled through donors but secretly paid by the elder Bera through multiple bank accounts used to further cover his tracks.
The 2010 incidents of money laundering did not end up helping Ami Bera win, as the Sacramento County physician lost a close race to former U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River). But in the 2012 rematch, the second election cycle in which money was illegally funneled into Bera’s campaign, the Democrat defeated Lungren by about 9,000 votes.
Bera has remained a target of Republicans in one of California’s swing districts, having narrowly won reelection in 2014. His challenger in November, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, is seeking to link the congressman to his father’s money laundering conviction. On Tuesday, Jones proposed tightening federal campaign finance laws to make it harder for money to be funneled from one donor to another.
“This is one of the most difficult moments my family has ever experienced,” the congressman said in a written statement. “Of course I’m absolutely devastated and heartbroken for how today’s decision will impact our entire family. But my father’s accepted what he did was wrong, he’s taken responsibility and I love him more than words can express.”