President Barack Obama's Indian-American filmmaker critic Dinesh D'Souza has pleaded not guilty to charges that he made illegal contributions to New York Republican senate hopeful Wendy Long in her 2012 campaign.
Mumbai-born D'Souza, 52, whose documentary "2016: Obama's America" took a highly critical look at Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign, faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Long, an old friend of D'Souza's from their days at Dartmouth College, a private Ivy League research university located in Hanover, New Hampshire, will testify against him at trial, prosecutor Carrie Cohen told Judge Richard Berman at the "Roots of Obama's Rage" author's arraignment in a New York court on Friday, New York Daily News reported.
Long "informed the government that D'Souza lied to her about the source of those donations," Cohen was quoted as saying.
She said D'Souza had exceeded campaign contribution limits by giving her cash through two of his married friends. "One worked with him and the other lived with him," Cohen said.
They each donated $10,000 to Long and behalf of themselves and their spouses - and then D'Souza repaid them in cash a "one or two days later," Cohen said.
Individual donations are supposed to be capped at $5,000. The two straw donors have given witness statements to federal agents, and will also testify against D'Souza at trial, Cohen said, according to Daily News.
D'Souza's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he wasn't challenging most of Cohen's facts - but he was challenging her conclusion that what his client did was criminal.
"There was no 'quid pro quo' in this case," Brafman said, and the director "did not act with any corrupt or criminal intent whatsoever."
"At worse, this was an act of misguided friendship by D'Souza," he said.
D'Souza was released on $500,000 bond.
Commenting on the case, influential Washington news site Politico said "The government's move to indict D'Souza has rippled across conservative circles in Washington and New York, the media bastions where D'Souza made his reputation and where a dwindling group of friends and admirers still hold some sway on the right."
"I was a little surprised he was involved in politics," said former House speaker Newt Gingrich as cited by Politico.
Gingrich, who has praised even D'Souza's most controversial recent work said: "He wants to be a provocateur. I thought he was actually pretty useful. I haven't talked to him in the last six months and I have no thoughts about his current situation."