The father of Ami Bera, the only Indian-American in US Congress, has been sentenced to a year in prison for violating election funding laws in his donations to his son’s campaign.
Babulal Bera, 85, a retired chemical engineer who came to the US from Gujarat, had pleaded guilty to the charge in May, telling the trial court, “I have, in fact, done the crime.”
Prosecutors and a defence lawyer had since then argued about his punishment, given his advance age. He will eventually serve 10 months from the day he begins his term.
“This is one of the most difficult moments my family has ever experienced,” Ami Bera said in a statement after the sentencing on Thursday. “I’m absolutely devastated and heartbroken for how today’s decision will impact our entire family. But my father’s accepted what he did was wrong, he’s taken responsibility, and I love him more than words can express.”
Bera was found to have been unaware about the violation committed by his father. “To date, there is no indication from what we’ve learned in the investigation that either the congressman or his campaign staff knew of, or participated in, the reimbursements of contributions,” acting US attorney Phillip Talbert stated during the trial.
Bera, a Democrat, is only the third Indian-American elected to the US House of Representatives, after Dalip Singh Saund and Bobby Jindal, and is running for a third term.
Prosecutors said his father had solicited donations from friends and relatives for Bera’s first two campaigns in 2010 (which he lost) and 2012 (which he won, for his first term).
The elder Bera had either paid these relatives and friends to make those donations, or repaid them later, after they had contributed. He was funneling his own money through others to get around funding laws that limit individual contributions to $5,000 for primary and general elections together.
Prosecutors traced $260,000 in such funding.
“This blessed country has given me...so much,” Babulal Bera said in a statement at his sentencing. “I felt my son would repay this beautiful nation by serving in the United States Congress.”