Legal experts and former federal regulatory officials on Tuesday slammed the sentence of probation with eight months of confinement imposed on conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza for federal campaign-finance violations.
"He never should have been prosecuted for this at all," Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax. "This was a small, well-motivated mistake.
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"Just probation would have been the appropriate sentence in this case," he added. "No confinement anywhere."
David Mason, a former commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, laughed when asked about D'Souza's confinement.
"It's not going to do anybody any good, I guess that's my first thought," he told Newsmax. "My second thought is that the judge certainly exercised good sense in rejecting the prosecution's call to put him in jail for a one-time thing like this — which was bad judgment, but frankly didn't hurt anybody."
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan sentenced D'Souza, 53, to eight months in a community confinement center during five years of probation after the latter pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws.
D'Souza, whose top-grossing 2012 documentary blasted President Barack Obama, was also fined $30,000 and ordered to teach English to non-English-speaking people eight hours a week while on probation.
Berman also imposed therapeutic counseling on D'Souza, in which he is to participate for five years.
D'Souza's movie, "2016: Obama's America," remains a top-grossing documentary, with a take of more than $33.4 million. He released "America: Imagine the World Without Her," in July, which has so far grossed over $14.4 million.
In May, D'Souza pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing two "straw donors" who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a first-time Republican candidate whom he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.
He is a naturalized citizen from Mumbai, India, who also served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration.
Before imposing sentence, Berman repeatedly criticized D'Souza, saying he continued to deflect responsibility and minimize his crime.
"I think I have figured out a little bit more about Mr. D'Souza," Berman said. "He's a talker. In fact, he's almost a compulsive talker. I don't think he's a listener."
D'Souza, however, said, "I got the stupid idea" of making the reimbursements. "I wish I didn't do something so bad and so stupid."
"I chose to help her in the worst possible way," he added, referring to Long. "It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea. I regret breaking the law."
Prosecutors had sought a prison term of 10 to 16 months, rejecting defense arguments that D'Souza was "ashamed and contrite" about his crime and deserved probation with community service.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for D'Souza to serve a year in prison.
Berman said a probationary sentence was appropriate but added: "I do think that it's important to put some teeth into the probationary period." D'Souza seemed relieved when Berman ruled out prison. His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, patted his shoulder.
The January indictment was widely attacked by conservatives and liberals alike as a form of retribution for D'Souza's 2012 film.
In their Newsmax interviews,
Dershowitz and Mason furthered those accusations in criticizing the eight-month confinement with D'Souza's probation.
"He's not dangerous. He's not a bad person," Dershowitz said. "He's very controversial.
"I disagree with most of his political views, but I don't think we should be using the criminal law to imprison people or confine people who have made an honest mistake, which is what he did — and he fessed up to it.
"It was just to help a friend in a losing cause," the Harvard Law professor added. "It wasn't venal. It wasn't motivated by any desire to help himself."
Perhaps the entire incident has been more discomfiting for D'Souza than anything else, Mason said.
"Dinesh has been profoundly embarrassed by this. He understands that he broke the law," he told Newsmax. "Everybody else understands that he broke the law.
"This kind of one-time activity involving a personal friend is not the kind of thing, in my view, that somebody should go to jail for — or even should have to undergo any period where their freedom is limited, which is what's going to happen to him in the halfway house."
Mason served on the FEC from 1998 to 2008, having been first appointed by President Bill Clinton and reappointed by President George W. Bush.
He has told Newsmax that cases involving small amounts of campaign-financing issues are usually resolved at a low level.
"I don't know why or how his case even came to the prosecutor's attention, because in the world of campaign finance this is very small, and it's completely insignificant," Mason said on Tuesday. "So how, why this particular case came up and the prosecutor decided to pursue it, I don't know.
"We have campaign-finance limits, and people can disagree with them or not, but if we have rules, people have to follow them and you have punishment to deter people from violating them.
"In this case, because of the amount involved and because of the type of race it was and other circumstances, a civil penalty — which would've been a fine that he would've paid to the FEC — would've been more than enough," Mason said.
"Prosecuting this as a criminal case was overkill."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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