The father of a Sacramento-area congressman pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally funneling more than a quarter of a million dollars to his son's campaigns in 2010 and 2012.
Babual Bera, father of Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove), entered the plea during a brief appearance in federal court in Sacramento. He will be sentenced in August, and federal prosecutors are recommending up to 30 months in prison.
In court documents, prosecutors said the 83-year-old retired engineer and his wife asked "relatives, friends and acquaintances to make the maximum allowable federal campaign contributions" in 2009 and again in 2011. Bera ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, and later won a razor-thin victory against former Rep. Dan Lungren in 2012.
"Congressman Bera and his campaign staff have been fully cooperative in this investigation," acting U.S. Atty. Phillip A. Talbert said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "To date, there is no indication from what we've learned in the investigation that either the congressman or his campaign staff knew of, or participated in, the reimbursements of contributions."
For the Record
May 10, 5:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said that Talbert made his remarks at a news conference Wednesday. It was Tuesday.
Prosecutors said there were more than 130 instances of improper campaign contributions reported from approximately 90 people. Bera's father repaid at least portions of those donations, and investigators said that it's possible even more money was donated illegally to the congressman's early campaigns.
The elder Bera pleaded guilty Tuesday to funneling $225,326 to back his son's political aspirations in 2009 and an additional $43,000 in 2011. In both election cycles, Bera's parents had already made their own contributions of $2,400 and $2,500, the maximum allowed under the law.
Prosecutors said that the investigation began with an anonymous tip to the FBI in the fall of 2014 and that the donations were made and later repaid by people in various parts of the country. Babual Bera was interviewed by agents last October about the campaign contributions. He was arraigned shortly before appearing in U.S. District Court Judge Troy L. Nunley's courtroom and was escorted away without answering questions from reporters.
In a written statement, Rep. Bera said he was "incredibly saddened and disappointed in learning what my dad did." He said that neither he nor any campaign aides were aware of the activities until being contacted by federal prosecutors.
"While I deeply love my father, it's clear that he has made a grave mistake that will have real consequences for him," Bera said in the statement.
A campaign spokesman said Bera wrote a check from his political account to the U.S. Treasury on Tuesday to cover the entire amount identified by prosecutors.
The two-term Democrat faces a tough reelection battle. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican, entered the race last fall. Bera's 2014 challenger, former Rep. Doug Ose, watched the father's guilty plea from the courtroom audience Tuesday.
Bera also finds himself in a tough spot with some traditional Democratic supporters this year, as labor unions have sharply criticized him for supporting President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
The congressman's parents emigrated from India in the 1950s and live in La Palma. His father, who leaned on a cane in court, asked for the help of an interpreter during Tuesday's proceedings. He was allowed to return home while awaiting sentencing but agreed to surrender his passport.
When asked by the judge whether he was guilty of helping illegally funnel cash to his son's campaign, Babual Bera said through the interpreter, "I have, in fact, done the crime."
Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.