RENO — Lawyers for former Nevada lobbyist Harvey Whittemore are asking a federal judge for an evidentiary hearing before his sentencing next week to prove why he deserves probation, rather than prison time for breaking campaign contribution laws.
But federal prosecutors say failure to put the wealthy developer behind bars for funneling more than $130,000 to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election campaign would fuel the “growing public cynicism that the political process belongs to the rich and powerful and is rigged against voters of ordinary means.”
Prosecutors said in court documents filed Monday in Reno that sending Whittemore to prison would help counter that cynicism.
Judge Larry Hicks is scheduled to sentence Whittemore on Monday on three felony convictions.
His defense lawyers have vowed to appeal the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
They contend in court filings that the government’s argument in support of 51 months in prison and a fine of $133,400 is based in part on references to a fourth charge of lying to the FBI that was dropped after the jury deadlocked on that count.
They also say prosecutors continue to improperly reference “unproven allegations” by a former business partner that Whittemore embezzled money from his former real estate development company. Those claims, they say, are part of a civil lawsuit that never went to trial and have no place in the criminal proceedings.
In addition, they said prosecutors continue to insinuate connections between Whittemore’s support for Reid’s re-election and Whittemore’s success in overcoming problems with his Coyote Springs development outside of Las Vegas as a result of his relationship with political figures.
Prosecutors said Whittemore gave money to family members and employees in 2007 to make contributions he had promised to Reid while concealing himself as the true source to skirt campaign finance laws.
Whittemore claimed he broke no laws by giving $5,000 checks to family members and employees and their spouses, who then each wrote checks for the maximum allowable $4,600 to Reid’s campaign fund.
Prosecutors said Whittemore’s lawyers are trying to minimize the seriousness of the crimes. They said Whittemore has never “expressed the slightest acceptance of responsibility for his conduct.”
“This was not a minor infraction. Whittemore’s crime affected the voting public at large and struck at the heart of the election process,” U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden and assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre wrote in Monday’s filing.
They accused Whittemore of executing his scheme to increase his access to power and enhance his level of influence. The prospect of only probation or a fine is hardly an adequate deterrent, they said, in light of the fact that many people, like the defendant, who commit campaign finance offenses are wealthy.
“With the risk of detection generally low and the likelihood of a prison sentence even lower, well-heeled individuals are unlikely to be deterred from committing campaign finance offenses,” the prosecutors wrote.