Attorney Gadhia gets jail, no fine Campaign fund-raiser to serve three months for donation scheme

August 07, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A key fund-raiser for Maryland Democrats was sentenced to three months in prison yesterday for orchestrating a scheme to launder $46,000 in illegal political contributions from an official from the Indian Embassy.

Lalit H. Gadhia, 57, a Baltimore attorney who served as Gov. Parris N. Glendening's campaign treasurer, also will serve six months of home detention after his release from prison. U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin did not fine Gadhia.

Smalkin said he was imposing a prison term to send a message "that people inside the process will not be able to manipulate it without some kind of consequences."

"Mr. Gadhia has been a political insider. He started as an outsider. He became an insider," Smalkin said.

A tearful Gadhia apologized to his family, friends and teachers before Smalkin announced his sentence. Next to his father's death, Gadhia said, "This is the saddest day of my life."

In a life of service to the community, he always tried to uphold high moral standards, he said.

"However, in pursuit of worthy goals, I became overzealous and lost sight of the fact that the ends don't justify the means," Gadhia said.

He offered his apologies to the Indian community "for any harm that has come to the cause of their participation in this society."

And Gadhia, an immigration lawyer, added that "in today's climate, I must also apologize to the immigrant community."

Gadhia pleaded guilty in May to a single count of making a false statement to the Federal Election Commission. He admitted to organizing a scheme in which 31 people wrote checks to the Indian-American Leadership Fund, a political action committee that disbursed contributions to congressional lawmakers and candidates who were friendly to Indian issues.

According to court documents, the Indian-American Leadership Fund was a political action committee started by Subodh Chandra soon after he graduated from Yale University law school. Gadhia approached Chandra in the fall of 1994 and persuaded him to make contributions to federal candidates who were not Indian-Americans but were friendly to Indian issues. Gadhia offered to do all the fund raising.

Prosecutors said Gadhia first recruited six people to solicit 31 others who would write checks to the PAC. The 31 contributors were reimbursed from $46,000 Gadhia received from an official in the Indian Embassy. Some of the money also was contributed directly to certain federal campaigns through people who wrote checks and were reimbursed.

Gadhia used the bogus contributors to skirt federal election campaign finance laws, particularly the $1,000 limit on individual contributions to a single federal candidate per election and the $5,000 limit to a PAC, and the prohibition on foreign nationals from making campaign contributions to any candidate in a federal election.

Neither Chandra and others associated with the PAC, nor the candidates, knew the source of the campaign contributions, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans asked that Gadhia be sentenced to six months in prison. "The bottom line is these offenses undermine any notion of democratic ideals," he said. "It undermines the concept of free elections in a democratic society.

"The message must go out that these kinds of shenanigans simply cannot be tolerated," he said. "Six months to serve sends that message and it tells the public that the courts take these offenses seriously and that people who commit them will go to jail."

Daniel F. Goldstein, Gadhia's attorney and friend, said his client, whose disbarment is imminent, had received significant punishment already. "He has lost his profession. He has lost his livelihood. He has lost his ability to be credible in matters of public concern," he said.

In handing down his sentence, Smalkin acknowledged Gadhia's extensive community service and the testimonials he received in letters to the court.

"Well, Mr. Gadhia, as I said before, you are not a fundamentally evil or bad person," Smalkin said. "I trust that among the people you would apologize to is yourself, so that when this is over with, you'll be able to get on with your life."

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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