Dinesh D'Souza Pleads Guilty to Making Illegal Campaign Contribution

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Dinesh D'Souza

The filmmaker behind "2016: Obama's America" faces up to two years in prison; the more serious charges are expected to be dropped.

Conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza has struck a deal with prosecutors over charges he used straw donors to give $15,000 more to a U.S. Senate campaign than is allowed under campaign finance laws, authorities said Tuesday.

D’Souza was to have started his trial this week in New York, but instead he pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of making illegal campaign contributions, which carries a maximum two-year sentence. He’s expected to be sentenced in about four months.

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In exchange for D’Souza’s plea, prosecutors are expected to drop the more serious charge of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

D’Souza was indicted in January for asking some friends to donate money to the campaign of Wendy Long, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Democratic incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York in 2012, and allegedly promising to reimburse them for their donations.

From the beginning, attorney Benjamin Brafman characterized his client’s alleged transgression as “an act of misguided friendship,” and he and others have said federal authorities were engaging in payback for D’Souza’s movie 2016: Obama’s America, a hit documentary that portrayed President Barack Obama in a negative light.

“It’s a remarkably selective prosecution, considering Obama raised millions of dollars under similar circumstances and donors merely faced civil fines while D’Souza is charged with felony violation of federal law,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told The Hollywood Reporter in February.

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Likewise, Gerald Molen, who produced 2016 and is also producing D’Souza’s next film, America, told THR last week that the arrest amounted to “political intimidation," and he called for the charges to be dropped. On Tuesday, Molen added, "Anyone who knows Dinesh knows that none of this will deter him from continuing to speak out about this administration or other public issues and making sure that our movie is released on schedule."

Brafman also filed papers claiming that the government "targeted" D'Souza because of his "highly publicized criticism" of the president, though a judge last week was unsympathetic to that argument.

On Tuesday, Brafman told THR that D'Souza did, in fact, urge two associates to donate $10,000 each to Long's campaign and then reimbursed them; therefore, "there was no viable defense" against the charges.

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"We are hopeful that Judge [Richard] Berman will recognize Mr. D'Souza to be a fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive and responsible life," Brafman said.

While insiders say the filming of America has been more difficult because of D’Souza’s indictment, Lionsgate is expected to open it wide on schedule July 2. One piece of fallout related to the arrest, though, is that Obama’s half brother, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, pulled out of an interview, with a representative writing in an email to the filmmakers: “Upon reconsideration, Mark has decided it would not be appropriate to join your project while the federal investigation of Mr. D’Souza is ongoing.”

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com