Dinesh D'Souza, conservative filmmaker, pleads guilty to straw donor scheme

Conservative scholar and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, left, accompanied

Conservative scholar and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, left, accompanied by his lawyer Benjamin Brafman, leaves federal court in Manhattan Tuesday, May 20, 2014. D'Souza has pleaded guilty in federal court to making illegal campaign contributions. Photo Credit: AP / Richard Drew

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Conservative activist and Barack Obama critic Dinesh D'Souza pleaded guilty to an election-law felony Tuesday for illegally funneling money into the 2012 New York Senate campaign of Wendy Long.

D'Souza, 53, of San Diego, a former Ronald Reagan aide who produced an anti-Obama documentary, faces up to 2 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and loss of his right to vote, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan said.

D'Souza once headed King's College, a small Christian academy in Manhattan. He was accused in January of illegally reimbursing associates for $20,000 in contributions to Long's losing campaign against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Prosecutors said he misled Long about where the donations were coming from, and when she found out after the election that he had used straw donors, he told her "she shouldn't worry about it because she hadn't known a thing." The two were friends at Dartmouth College.

"I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids," D'Souza told Berman at his plea hearing. "I deeply regret my conduct."

He faces 10 to 16 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but defense lawyer Ben Brafman said he would ask for leniency at D'Souza's sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 23.

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"We are hopeful that Judge Berman will recognize Mr. D'Souza to be a fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive and responsible life," Brafman said in a statement.

D'Souza contended before his plea that he was being singled out for his political leanings, and Long, in a statement, said it was wrong to punish him for giving money to a political campaign.

"When our government criminalizes the very free speech that the First Amendment was written to protect, sends people to prison for simply exercising their constitutional rights, and when government power is wielded like a weapon against political enemies, we are all in trouble," she said.

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