(Updates with prosecutor’s comment in fourth paragraph.)
June 9 (Bloomberg) -- Christopher Tigani, a Delaware businessman once identified as one of Vice President Joe Biden’s top 20 political donors, pleaded guilty to violating campaign- contribution laws.
Tigani, former president of NKS Distributors Inc., today acknowledged he broke federal election laws with his 2007 contributions to an unidentified presidential campaign. U.S. District Judge Gregory Sleet in Wilmington, Delaware, set sentencing for Sept. 20. Tigani faces a maximum prison term of 16 years, prosecutors said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors said outside of court that Tigani’s plea is part of a joint investigation with state officials. They refused to identify the focus of the probe.
“The investigation is broad in scope and extends beyond campaign contributions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiss said in an interview.
The government contends Tigani created a “sham” campaign drive for the unidentified presidential candidate in 2007 by soliciting checks from his liquor distributorship’s employees and then reimbursing them with company funds, according to charging papers made public today.
Tigani declined to comment on his plea outside the courtroom.
Tigani, 40, lost control of New Castle, Delaware-based NKS, which has the exclusive right to distribute Anheuser-Busch InBev’s beers across Delaware, in a 2009 dispute with his father. Tigani made more than $47,000 in campaign contributions during the past decade, Federal Election Commission records show.
Those donations included $7,500 to Biden, who ran for president in 2008 before accepting President Barack Obama’s offer to become vice president, according to FEC records. Tigani’s personal contributions covered a six-year period starting in 2001, the records show.
Tigani and his family members gave Biden another $12,300 during the period, according to the records. Tigani’s $1,200 donation to Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign made him one of the then-Delaware senator’s top 20 individual contributors, according to Follow the Money, a website that tracks political donations.
Amy Dudley, a Biden spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Tigani’s plea today.
Tigani also contributed $2,300 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007, FEC records show. He donated $2,000 to former President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
Tigani “illegally bundled campaign contributions” totaling at least $219,800, prosecutors said in today’s statement. He was charged over contributions he made to candidates for president, the senate, governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer and other offices, prosecutors said, without identifying the candidates.
Tigani also pleaded guilty to making false statements on his 2005 and 2006 tax returns, according to the statement.
Tigani sought bankruptcy protection last year to stop a foreclosure sale of his 23,937-square-foot mansion northwest of Wilmington. The home had been owned by Charles Cawley, founder of credit-card issuer MBNA, which Bank of America Corp. acquired for $34.2 billion in 2006.
Wilmington Trust Co., a unit of M&T Bank Corp., began foreclosure proceedings after Tigani failed to make payments on his $4.1 million mortgage on the home, according to court records.
The bank was the only bidder for the 1929 stone mansion at a January auction and bought it for $2.1 million, according to court records. It comes with a carriage house, formal garden and 18-vehicle garage.
The criminal case is U.S. v. Tigani, 11-cr-42, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington). Tigani’s bankruptcy case is In re Christopher J. Tigani, 10-11855, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).
--With assistance from Dawn McCarty, Sophia Pearson and Michael Bathon in Wilmington, Delaware. Editors: Stephen Farr, Andrew Dunn
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