Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera’s 83-year-old father has been sentenced by a California judge in the US to one year in prison after he pleaded guilty to illegally funnelling around $2,60,000 to his son’s congressional campaigns in violation of the US federal law.
His son, Ami Bera, 51, narrowly won both elections after recounts following tight margins. He remains the only Indian-American lawmaker in Congress. He is up for a third term in November, 2016 concurrent with the Presidential election. He has categorically denied that he was aware of his father’s move.
Mr. Babulal Bera, a retired chemical engineer who immigrated to the US from India in 1958, was handed down the prison term by the US District Judge Troy L Nunley.
Mr Bera had pleaded guilty in May, 2016 to laundering $260,000 in illegal contributions to his son’s campaign through straw donors. A special agent in charge of the FBI Sacramento field office said Babulal Bera was fully aware of the related law but he tried to beat the system by using straw donors.
The case drew wide attention because of the age of the defendant, but District Judge showed little sympathy for the accused despite his age and medical condition that included spinal surgeries and recovery from prostate cancer for which he continues to receive regular checkups. In court filings, the accused attorneys also showed that he has had two knee replacements.
“This is more than just a naive person who doesn’t know how elections work. The defendant’s efforts were calculated,” Mr. Nunley said during the sentencing hearing in Sacramento, California. However, the judge also noted that Bera had led an “admirable life” – marked by love and support for his family and charitable acts – up until the 2010 election cycle, when he began illegal fundraising to boost his son’s campaign for California’s 3rd District seat.
Post the sentence, in a statement the son said that he was distraught by the sentence, given his father’s age and health condition. He said this is one of the most difficult moments his family has ever experienced, but his father has accepted what he did was wrong and has taken the responsibility.