FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The father of Kentucky’s secretary of state was convicted Thursday of orchestrating a scheme to funnel illegal contributions to his daughter’s failed 2014 U.S. Senate campaign against Republican Mitch McConnell.
A jury deliberated about two hours following a five-week trial on charges that Democratic stalwart Jerry Lundergan broke federal law by directing more than $200,000 in illegal corporate contributions to benefit Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign. Grimes, once seen as a rising Democratic star, is in her second term as secretary of state.
A co-defendant in the case, Democratic consultant Dale Emmons, also was convicted. Both men face potentially lengthy prison sentences.
Lundergan’s attorney, J. Guthrie True, told reporters afterward that Lundergan will appeal. Emmons’ attorney didn’t immediately comment.
“We would intend to take this appeal as high as possible,” True said.
Prosecutors said the two defendants tried to evade campaign finance laws meant to ensure public trust in elections.
“The jury’s verdict reinforces the fundamental principle that rules apply to everyone,” U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr. said in a statement. “The defendants’ actions were deliberately designed to evade reporting requirements that serve to protect the integrity and transparency of federal elections.”
Lundergan was found guilty of all 10 counts he faced and Emmons was convicted on all six of his counts. Charges included conspiracy, causing falsification of documents and causing submission of false statements. The most serious charges carry up to 20 years in prison.
Grimes was in the courtroom when the verdicts were read. Her father remained stoic for the verdict, but a soft cry could be heard in the courtroom. Sentencing was set for Jan. 22.
The trial was followed closely by political insiders in Kentucky. It exposed some of the struggles and rivalries within Democratic ranks and Grimes’ campaign as she failed to topple McConnell, now the Senate majority leader and the nation’s most powerful congressional Republican.
Lundergan and Emmons were convicted of taking part in a conspiracy to direct illegal contributions to Grimes’ Senate campaign. No evidence was presented that suggested Grimes knew about the contributions.
Prosecutors alleged that Lundergan funneled more than $200,000 in illegal contributions to Grimes’ campaign, either by paying for campaign services directly and not seeking reimbursements or by paying costs through Emmons. Those campaign services included audio-video production, lighting, recorded phone calls and campaign consulting, prosecutors said.
During closing arguments, federal prosecutor Robert Heberle told jurors that Lundergan and Emmons were involved in a “concerted scheme” to subvert federal election rules to benefit the Grimes campaign.
Prosecutors said the defendants concealed the scheme from Grimes campaign compliance officials. The concealment caused the campaign to unwittingly file false reports with the Federal Election Commission because the reports failed to disclose the source and amount of the corporate contributions, prosecutors said.
Lundergan’s attorney acknowledged during the trial that mistakes were made, but added: “You don’t convict people for mistakes.” He said his client had no reason to make illegal contributions since his daughter’s campaign received huge amounts of donations.
The government, he said, treated Lundergan “like a heel in this case for trying to help his daughter’s campaign.”
Emmons’ attorney, Brandon Wayne Marshall, said in his closing arguments that his client didn’t understand the intricacies of campaign-finance law and believed that what he was doing was “perfectly legal.”
The defendants are longtime friends and well-known political figures in Kentucky. Lundergan, a Lexington businessman, is an ex-state lawmaker and former state Democratic Party chairman. Emmons has worked on campaigns for offices from courthouses to Congress.
Grimes is one of the state’s most prominent Democrats. She could not seek reelection as secretary of state this year because of term limits. She considered running for governor this year but decided against it.