SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Babulal Bera, a retired chemical engineer who emigrated from India and watched his oldest son win election to the U.S. House of Representatives, was sentenced Thursday to a federal prison term of one year and one day for organizing a money-laundering scheme that helped fund two of his son’s campaigns.
Defense attorneys for the 83-year-old man argued the sentence was too severe, but U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley disagreed, calling it an appropriate punishment.
“The defendant’s efforts were calculated,” the judge said during the sentencing hearing in Sacramento. “This is more than just a naive person who doesn’t know how elections work.”
Rep. Ami Bera was not in the courtroom to witness his father convicted of two counts of of federal campaign finance violations. The two-term democrat from Elk Grove denied knowing anything about the scheme and has expressed disappointment in his father’s actions.
“This is one of the most difficult moments my family has ever experienced,” Bera, who is currently seeking re-election, 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.”
Earlier at the DNC Bera provided an exclusive interview to Diya TV and discussed his father’s impending sentencing.
The elder Bera provided no comment to reporters as he exited the courthouse in downtown Sacramento. Although he had previously used the services of an interpreter in the courtroom, Thursday Bera addressed the judge himself in English. “No one else knows my wife like I do. She means everything to me,” he said shaking his head as he pleaded with the court to allow him to remain by her side. “I cannot live without her, and she cannot live without me.”
The sentence rendered was much lighter than what federal regulations normally call for — three years — but did include a fine of $100,200. He can become eligible for release after 10 months, and must surrender himself to federal authorities within 90 days to begin serving his time.
Defense attorneys asked the judge to take into consideration the ages of him and his wife, describing the marriage between the two as “a deeply intertwined dependency between a married couple in their twilight years.”
While Judge Nunley acknowledged Bera’s age would make a prison term more difficult to serve, she also said the sentence addressed the severity of his actions and was sufficiently serious to deter others from committing similar crimes.
Prosecutors opined that Bera engaged in an elaborate operation of soliciting donations from friends and family for his son’s first two congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012. 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.
Bera has remained a primary target of Republicans in one of California’s swing districts, having narrowly won re-election in 2014. His challenger in November’s general election, 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.
“More has to be done to root corruption out of politics and expose conflicts,” Jones said in a statement.
Prosecutors immediately dismissed the idea that the elder Bera got caught up in the excitement of helping his son achieve a longtime dream.
“He carried on these acts month after month, year after year, and over the course of two campaigns,” they wrote in court documents. “He cannot explain away his actions as the result of runaway emotions.”