A New Orleans political consultant and fund-raiser who is Senator Kennedy's brother-in-law was sentenced to a year in prison yesterday after pleading guilty to bank fraud charges.
The Democratic operative, Raymond Reggie, also was ordered by Judge Carl Barbier to pay $6.5 million in restitution for the swindle, which was aimed at keeping solvent the consultant's advertising placement firm, Media Direct LLC.
Reggie drew a flurry of attention earlier this year after The New York Sun reported that he wore a wire for the FBI during an investigation of alleged campaign finance irregularities during Senator Clinton's 2000 campaign. Court records obtained by the Sun also showed that the FBI sought to use Reggie as an informant last year in an investigation involving a prominent political figure who was allegedly soliciting campaign donations from foreign nationals.
Reggie's prosecution, and his decision to make surreptitious recordings for the FBI, caused considerable consternation in Democratic political circles. During visits to New Orleans, President Clinton regularly dined with Reggie. The consultant also organized fund-raising events for Democrats, such as Mrs. Clinton and Vice President Gore.
Legal experts said the 12-month sentence for Reggie was unusually light, given the charges he faced.
Asked if the sentence could be considered lenient, Reggie's attorney, Michael Ellis, said, "Yeah. I think the sentence was eminently fair."
"I can't fault the judge one iota. I thought it worked out extremely well," the defense lawyer said.
No additional details about Reggie's work as a government informant emerged from yesterday's hearing. However, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense confirmed that the government asked Judge Barbier to give Reggie a reduced sentence because of his assistance in federal investigations.
"We did file a recommendation based on his cooperation," a federal prosecutor, Jan Mann, said. "The judge granted it. It's not public record," she added.
In an unusual bid for leniency, Mr. Ellis played a videotape in court depicting people Reggie aided as New Orleans residents struggled to deal with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The video presentation included a testimonial by a 92-year-old woman who said Reggie rescued her from her home as floodwaters approached. "She probably wouldn't have made it had he not done that," Mr. Ellis said. The lawyer said about 50 friends and business associates of Reggie attended the sentencing.
A former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, Seth Levine, said the one year prison term for Reggie is light. "Is it a low sentence? Sure," the lawyer said. "Is it unheard of? Honestly, it's not." Reggie could have received up to 35 years behind bars, though federal guidelines call for a substantially shorter sentence.
Mr. Levine said the one-year sentence signals that Reggie gave significant assistance to prosecutors, but it is impossible to divine from the public record just how helpful the political insider was. "The extent of the reduction is often tied to the value and degree of cooperation," Mr. Levine said.
Reggie testified as a prosecution witness in May at the trial of a top finance aide on Mrs. Clinton's 2000 campaign, David Rosen. Mr. Rosen was charged with understating the cost of a Hollywood fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton by nearly $1 million.
Before the trial, it emerged that Reggie invited Mr. Rosen to a Chicago steakhouse in 2002 and secretly audiotaped their conversation at the behest of the FBI. In excerpts of the recording made public in court files, Mr. Rosen called himself a "guinea pig" and a "good soldier" for Mrs. Clinton's legal team. He also said that the star-studded Hollywood fund-raiser may have gone way over budget, but he did not indicate that he knew of the overspending by a wealthy donor as it took place.
At the trial, which was held in Los Angeles, Reggie said Mr. Rosen was aware at the time of the gala in 2000 that costs for the event spiraled out of control. Reggie, who was friendly with Mr. Rosen at the time, testified that he saw Mr. Rosen arguing about the costs with another top Clinton aide, Kelly Craighead. Reggie also said Mr. Rosen told him just after the event that last minute expenses for the gala "crushed him."
Mr. Rosen told jurors that Reggie's testimony was false. Mr. Rosen's attorney branded Reggie as a liar, and noted that he was charged in 2002 with impersonating a police officer by using a blue light to pull over an automobile containing several women. A judge threw those charges out earlier this year.
A jury acquitted Mr. Rosen on all counts. No one else was ever charged in the case.
Mr. Ellis, Reggie's lawyer, said he remains baffled by the prosecutors' decision not to play his client's secret tape for the jury. "That's just a mystery to me," the defense lawyer said.
Reggie pleaded guilty in April to one charge of bank fraud and another of conspiracy. He kited checks between accounts and submitted a forged Census Bureau contract for up to $18.5 million to a New Orleans bank. In reality, Reggie's firm had no contract with the federal agency.
It is not clear whether the other investigations Reggie played a role in are continuing or have petered out. Lawyers involved in the case would not discuss Reggie's cooperation beyond the Rosen case.
Reggie comes from a politically connected Louisiana family. He is the brother of Mr. Kennedy's wife, Victoria Reggie, and the son of a prominent judge, Edmund Reggie. In 1993, the judge was convicted of misusing bank funds and sentenced to four months of home confinement.
Mr. Kennedy's office did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. An attorney for the Clintons, David Kendall, declined to be interviewed.