Conservative author Dinesh D'Souza survived denunciations from his estranged wife, federal prosecutors and the judge to dodge a prison sentence in federal court in Manhattan Tuesday for funneling illegal contributions into a New York U.S. Senate race.
"I don't think it's necessary for Mr. D'Souza to go to jail," said U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, after a two-hour hearing in which he dismissed as "nonsense" D'Souza's claims he was singled out for making a popular anti-Obama documentary and criticized him for downplaying the crime.
D'Souza, 53, best known for his film "2016: Obama's America," was put on probation for five years, with the first eight months in a halfway house, fined $30,000 and ordered to spend one day a week teaching English to immigrants and to get counseling once a week.
The former White House aide and college president pleaded guilty to reimbursing straw donors for $20,000 in contributions to the 2012 Republican Senate campaign of Wendy Long, a college friend, after he had given the $10,000 maximum to her.
Before the plea, D'Souza argued the charges were retaliation for his anti-Obama views. Prosecutors wanted him imprisoned for 10 to 16 months, arguing that he undermined the electoral system, but defense lawyer Ben Brafman said jail time for illegal donations would be unprecedented.
At the hearing, Berman hinted he was considering a stiff sentence. The judge read aloud a letter from D'Souza's wife, whom he is divorcing, that called him a liar, and played post-plea interviews in which D'Souza continued to blame politics for the case -- comments Berman said were "self-destructive" for a man awaiting sentencing.
D'Souza told the judge his life story as a young Indian immigrant alone in the United States, and said Long was part of a close circle of friends that kept him afloat. Anxious to help her floundering 2012 campaign, he said, he chose the "worst possible way."
When he was done, Berman said he understood the interviews better. "He's a compulsive talker," the judge said. "I don't think he's a listener."