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Dinesh D'Souza Released on $500,000 Bond

Dinesh D'souza Headshot - P 2012
Ben Hider/Getty Images
Dinesh D'Souza

UPDATE: The filmmaker behind "2016: Obama's America" was briefly handcuffed during his arraignment in New York on charges he violated campaign finance laws in 2012.

Dinesh D'Souza pleaded "not guilty" Friday in New York during his arraignment on federal charges that he violated campaign finance laws by donating $20,000 to a friend who unsuccessfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012.

D'Souza's bail was set at $500,000 and he was released after promising that one financially responsible person would sign "a personal recognizance bond" within a week. The case was then adjourned until March 4. D'Souza spent six hours at the courthouse and was briefly handcuffed.

D'Souza, the filmmaker behind 2016: Obama's America, also must surrender his passport, adhere to pretrial supervision, make no new travel applications and restrict travel to the continental U.S. with prior approval.

D'Souza is in the midst of making his follow-up to 2016, a documentary called America that is set for release July 4. Sources say D'Souza had planned to head from New York to Oklahoma to shoot re-creations of American historical events, and insiders say those plans probably won't need to be changed in light of D'Souza's travel restrictions.

EARLIER: '2016: Obama's America' Filmmaker Indicted for Violating Campaign Finance Laws

In an indictment late Thursday federal authorities accused D'Souza of directing certain people to make political donations to a candidate before reimbursing them. In this way, he could funnel more money to a campaign than would be legal, authorities allege.

The indictment doesn't name the candidate, but sources say it was Republican Wendy Long, who ran for U.S. Senate against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat.

D'Souza's attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said D'Souza's action were merely "an act of misguided friendship" and that it didn't involve "any knowledge by the candidate that campaign finance rules may have been violated." He also said that "there was never a corrupt agreement of any kind."

Gerald Molen, who co-produced 2016, a negative take on President Barack Obama, and is co-producing America, says the prosecution of D'Souza amounts to "criminalizing dissent through the selective enforcement of the law."

FBI assistant director-in-charge George Venizelos disagrees.

"Trying to influence elections through bogus campaign contributions is a serious crime. Today, Mr. D'Souza finds himself on the wrong side of the law." said Venizelos. "The Federal Election Campaign Act was written to limit the influence of money in elections; The FBI is fiercely committed to enforcing those laws to maintain the integrity of our democratic process."

D'Souza is set to debate Bill Ayers on Thursday at Dartmouth College, and insiders say the schedule will be kept despite the filmmaker's new travel restrictions. Ayers is the former far-left activist-fugitive who co-founded the Weather Underground, which bombed public buildings four decades ago. In 2008, Sarah Palin made headlines when she accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists," a reference to the president and Ayers having served on Chicago education boards together. 

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com