New Jersey man admits to helping disguise foreign political contributions

(Reuters) - A New Jersey limousine driver pleaded guilty on Wednesday to helping funnel $80,000 in foreign contributions to President Barack Obama’s joint fundraising committee in 2012 so that foreign national could attend a campaign event.

In announcing the plea in Newark federal court of Bilal Shehu, who pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly and willfully making foreign contributions and donations, prosecutors did not identify the foreign source or national.

But the case came after a Republican congressman in 2013 called for investigations into the purchases by Shehu’s family of two $40,000 tickets for a San Francisco fundraiser, one of which was used by now-Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

At the October 2012 event, Rama, the Albanian Socialist Party leader, was photographed with Obama.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California at the time contended the photo was then used for “deceitful” purposes by Rama to imply a relationship with Obama during Albania’s own election, which brought him into leadership.

A spokesman for Rohrabacher declined comment on Wednesday.

In pleading guilty, prosecutors said that Shehu, a U.S. citizen, admitted that in late September 2012 he received an $80,000 wire transfer from a foreign source knowing he was to provide it to the joint fundraising committee.

Prosecutors said Shehu, a Paramus, New Jersey resident, then flew to San Francisco and attempted to gain entry into the fundraising event with the foreign national, who was denied entry but was allowed to be photographed with Obama.

“By his plea today, Mr. Shehu has accepted responsibility for his conduct and is deeply remorseful for his actions,” said his lawyer Alan Abramson.

Prosecutors said no one on the joint election committee has been accused of any wrongdoing and that it had cooperated fully in the investigation.

Shehu faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York, editing by G Crosse