Even when your best friends are Bill and Hillary Clinton, you cannot escape the net of a serious FBI investigation.
This would appear to be the key lesson learnt by Sant Singh Chatwal, the wealthy hotel magnate who on Thursday pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act by making more than $180,000 in federal campaign donations to three candidates through “straw donors” who were reimbursed, and to witness tampering.
In doing so Mr. Chatwal, who has often been described as a “bundler,” or large-scale campaign finance contributor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign among others, flouted spending limits aimed at limiting financial influence in federal elections and to ensure transparency as to the identity of donors.
As part of the plea bargain Mr. Chatwal has struck with federal authorities here he has also agreed to “forfeit” $1 million.
Mr. Chatwal, who made his name in the restaurant industry for founding the Bombay Palace restaurant chain and then achieved notoriety in the 1990s for being pursued by U.S. and Indian authorities for unpaid taxes linked to high-end real estate, apparently “used his employees, business associates, and contractors who performed work on his hotels to solicit campaign contributions on Mr. Chatwal’s behalf in support of various candidates for federal office and PACs, collect these contributions, and pay reimbursements for these contributions.”
A second component of the scheme that Mr. Chatwal allegedly ran saw him and his agents at Chatwal Associates induce straw donors, or false donors masking real donations from Mr. Chatwal, to make approximately $188,000 in campaign contributions to three candidates for “federal office,” while he often arranged for them to be reimbursed with his own funds or those of one of Mr. Chatwal’s companies.
While Mr. Chatwal ran this “scheme… to subvert the very purpose of the Election Act,” between 2007 and 2011, U.S. federal authorities began to close the noose around his operations by 2010, when an “informant” supplied law enforcement with a recorded conversation that he had with Mr. Chatwal.
In that discussion, the U.S. Department of Justice explained, Mr. Chatwal underscored his view as to the importance of political campaign contributions, stating that without campaign contributions, “nobody will even talk to you…That’s the only way to buy them, get into the system… What, what else is there? That’s the only thing.”
Similarly there appears to be recorded conversations indicating that Mr. Chatwal “sought to obstruct the grand jury investigation into his Election Act scheme by tampering with a witness, a person whose business performed construction work for Chatwal and Chatwal’s companies and who had recruited straw donors at Chatwal’s direction.”
In a June 2012 recorded conversation, Mr. Chatwal reportedly told this individual that if FBI and IRS agents approached him or his family, they should not speak with the agents and should instead refer them to a lawyer that Mr. Chatwal would provide.
In a July 2012 recorded conversation, Mr. Chatwal was then said to have directed the same individual to “lie to agents about the Election Act scheme,” adding that he would pay for the individual’s legal fees in connection with the investigation and offered to conceal the money within a payment for work the individual’s company had performed for Mr. Chatwal.
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