RENO — Former Nevada developer and political power broker Harvey Whittemore has been ordered to begin serving a two-year prison sentence for making illegal campaign contributions to Sen. Harry Reid after a judge decided the ex-lobbyist’s conviction is unlikely to be overturned on appeal.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks granted prosecutors’ request in Reno on Thursday to order Whittemore to turn himself in Aug. 6 to a federal a prison in Herlong, Calif., about 60 miles north of Reno.
Whittemore was convicted a year ago of violating campaign-spending laws by using family and employees of his billion-dollar real estate company to funnel more than $130,000 to the Senate majority leader’s re-election committee in 2007.
Hicks agreed to delay the start of his sentence originally set to begin Jan. 31 because the U.S. Supreme Court was considering a case with some of the same First Amendment claims Whittemore argues in his appeal to the 9th Circuit. But the judge says the high court’s ruling in April undermines Whittemore’s case.
“The court finds that his appeal now fails to raise a substantial question likely to result in a reversal or a new trial,” Hicks wrote in Thursday’s ruling, and therefore Whittemore “is no longer entitled to release pending his appeal.”
The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported Hicks’ ruling in Friday’s editions.
“We are very pleased with what we consider the fair and just decision of the court in this case,” said Dan Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada.
Whittemore’s lawyers declined comment.
At issue is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in April on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Committee, in which the justices found unconstitutional the current limits on the total, aggregate amount of money an individual can give various candidates in an election.
However, Bogden argued — and Hicks agreed — the justices clearly upheld limits on individual contributions to individual candidates, which means the law Whittemore broke still stands.
Prosecutors say Whittemore had tried to skirt the contribution limits by writing checks for $133,000 to family and employees who the government called “straw donors” who would simply hand the money over to Reid’s re-election campaign. Reid was not accused of any wrongdoing, although he had to amend his 2007 report to the FEC.
Whittemore maintains that while he encouraged them to contribute to the Nevada Democrat, the checks were “unconditional gifts” with no strings attached that became the recipients’ property for them to do with as they pleased.