Kent Sorenson pleads guilty over hidden payments scheme (updated)

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that former State Senator Kent Sorenson has pleaded guilty to two charges related to hidden payments in exchange for supporting Ron Paul for president. When he abandoned his position as Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chair to endorse Paul less than a week before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, rumors immediately circulated about alleged payments for his support. Sorenson repeatedly denied those rumors. However, he has now admitted that he received $73,000 in concealed payments after endorsing Paul. As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted lying to journalists and giving false testimony to an independent counsel appointed to investigate various charges. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat last October, the same day that independent counsel filed a devastating report. Federal authorities have been investigating the case since last year.

After the jump I’ve enclosed the full Department of Justice press release, with more details about the plea deal. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled. As far as I can tell, these charges are unrelated to any payments Sorenson allegedly received from the Bachmann campaign earlier in 2011. A former Bachmann campaign staffer made those claims in complaints he filed with the Federal Election Commission and with the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. Another former Bachmann staffer signed an affidavit containing details on Sorenson’s compensation for work supporting that campaign.

One mystery I hope someone will solve someday is whether Sorenson’s attorney, Ted Sporer, lied on behalf of his client, or whether Sorenson lied to Sporer along with everyone else. Even on the day he resigned from the state legislature, Sorenson maintained he was an innocent victim of a “straight-up political witch hunt.” A separate lawsuit that had alleged Sorenson stole a valuable e-mail list from a Bachmann staffer’s computer was eventually settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Sorenson.

UPDATE: Russ Choma has more details at Open Secrets, including the full plea agreement. Highly recommend clicking through to read that whole post. I’ve enclosed excerpts below.

U.S. Department of Justice press release, August 27:

Former Iowa State Senator Pleads Guilty to Concealing Federal Campaign Expenditures

A former Iowa State Senator pleaded guilty today to concealing payments he received from a presidential campaign in exchange for switching his support and services from one candidate to another and to obstructing a subsequent investigation into his conduct.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Acting Assistant Director in Charge Timothy A. Gallagher of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

“An elected official admitted that he accepted under-the-table payments from a campaign committee to secure his support and services for a candidate in the 2012 presidential election,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.   “Campaign finance reports should be accurate and transparent, not tools for concealing campaign expenditures.   Lying by public officials – whether intended to obstruct the FEC or federal investigators – violates the public trust and the law, and the Department of Justice does not tolerate it.”

“Today, Mr. Sorenson has taken responsibility for his crimes,” said Acting Assistant Director in Charge Gallagher.  “Exploiting the political process for personal gain will not be tolerated, and we will continue to pursue those who commit such illegal actions.”

Kent Sorenson, 42, of Milo, Iowa, pleaded guilty today to one count of causing a federal campaign committee to falsely report its expenditures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and one count of obstruction of justice in connection with the concealed expenditures.   The guilty plea was taken by Chief Magistrate Judge Celeste F. Bremer of the Southern District of Iowa for later review by Senior District Court Judge Robert W. Pratt.   Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.

According to a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Sorenson admitted that he had supported one campaign for the 2012 presidential election, but from October to December 2011, he met and secretly negotiated with a second political campaign to switch his support to that second campaign in exchange for concealed payments that amounted to $73,000.   On Dec. 28, 2011, at a political event in Des Moines, Iowa, Sorenson publicly announced his switch of support and work from one candidate to the other.

The payments included monthly installments of approximately $8,000 each and were concealed by transmitting them to a film production company, then through a second company, and finally to Sorenson and his spouse.  In response to criticism of his change of support for the candidates, Sorenson gave interviews to the media denying allegations that he was receiving any money from the second campaign committee, and noted that the committee’s FEC filings would show that the committee made no payments to him.

In his plea agreement, Sorenson also admitted that he gave false testimony to an independent counsel appointed at the request of the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, which was investigating allegations from a former employee of the first presidential campaign.  Sorenson testified falsely to the independent counsel about the concealed payments, in part to obstruct investigations that he anticipated by the FBI and FEC .

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance from the Omaha Field Office and the Des Moines Resident Agency.   The case is being prosecuted by Election Crimes Branch Director Richard C. Pilger and Trial Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

UPDATE: Russ Choma walks through details on money the Ron Paul campaign paid to a video company, $73,000 of which made its way to Sorenson in a series of payments. Choma comments,

It isn’t clear if the investigation is continuing, but Sorenson has been granted immunity from further prosecution on federal and state charges, as has his wife, according to the plea agreement. OpenSecrets.org has learned that two grand juries have been investigating the events in Iowa, one focused on the Paul campaign and one on Bachmann’s. Last August, OpenSecrets.org published a copy of a memo written by Aaron Dorr, the head of the Iowa Gun Owners, in which he outlined Sorenson’s demands to switch his endorsement. Included in the emails surrounding the negotiations were several top Paul campaign officials, including Benton.

Nobody has been indicted in connection with making the payments to Sorenson.

Sorenson could face up to five years in prison on the first charge and 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine on each of the two counts.

Matea Gold reports for the Washington Post, “prosecutors plan to recommend [Sorenson] receive a reduced sentence for accepting responsibility, according to court filings.”

Dorr’s role in this saga casts an unflattering light on Iowa Gun Owners.

Looking through the plea agreement posted at Open Secrets, I see that Ted Sporer is no longer representing Sorenson in this matter. The defense attorney who signed the plea agreement is F. Montgomery Brown of West Des Moines.

  • Sorenson

    Sorenson would have had more defenders if he wasn’t so abrasive.  I hope this whole sordid tale doesn’t lead to less paid campaign consultants.  Thousands of dollars get spent on these  state legislative campaigns and if it is going to be doled out then staffers/consultants/whoever should get a cut.  

    • consultants will still be paid

      but state legislators shouldn’t be paid for endorsements. This should be a big warning to them all.

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