The Maine real estate developer and entrepreneur once called “Donald Trump with a Maine accent” was sentenced to four months behind bars for making tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations to a Republican presidential campaign.
U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby on Wednesday afternoon ordered Michael Liberty, 56, to pay a fine of $100,000 and serve one year of supervised release in addition the prison time. Liberty was ordered to report to prison to begin serving his sentence on Sept. 8.
Before issuing the sentence, Hornby called Liberty’s illegal political donations the “quintessential white-collar crime” and said the that others who would interfere in the electoral process must be shown that doing so comes with “a punishment that stings.”
“The message here today is that wealth and access to money cannot out balance the deep need for integrity in all government functions,” said Hornby.
The sentencing hearing took place in a Portland courtroom crowded with people from around the country who Liberty’s lawyer said came to support him at “great personal expense.”
Before he was sentenced, Liberty told the judge that he had made a “terrible decision” and was “deeply sorry.”
“I have no one to blame but myself and I have no excuses,” he said.
Liberty’s lawyer urged the judge to only impose a fine as punishment.
Federal prosecutors argued in a previously filed sentencing memo that a six-month sentence with fines of at least $67,500 would deter others considering flouting campaign reporting rules in the future.
In requesting that Liberty be sentenced to jail time or house arrest, a federal prosecutor told the the judge Wednesday that “people are concerned that politics is dominated by an elite donor class.”
Earlier this year, Liberty pleaded guilty to making $22,500 in illegal campaign contributions, which court documents indicate benefited Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
The real estate, franchising and software mogul covered up his total donations to the Romney campaign by splitting the contributions up into nine parts over about two weeks in May 2011, and making the gifts under the names of employees, family members and associates.
In a Yankee Magazine profile early in his career, the outspoken and self-promotional Liberty was described as “Donald Trump with a Maine accent,” making fortunes building shopping centers, office buildings and condominiums all over the state. He continued to make money on regional franchise restaurant rights and would go on to found a Texas-based mobile payment startup firm, Mozido.
Forbes magazine has in recent years reported that after attracting more than $300 million from high-profile investors, such as former Google executive Eric Schmidt, Mozido has fallen on hard times, struggling to pay its employees and laying off others.
Before the sentencing Wednesday afternoon, several character witnesses recounted stories of Liberty’s philanthropy, including support for charitable organizations such as the Navy SEAL Foundation.
Others said that Liberty had helped them through hard financial patches or supported their children in going to college.
Prosecutors have said convictions in cases such as Liberty’s “are relatively rare” because they require detection of the concealed donations and proof of an intent to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.
Because of the nature of his plea agreement and because the sentence was below the maximum set out in federal sentencing guidelines, Liberty likely cannot appeal.
In a separate case, Liberty has been accused of lying to securities regulators, telling them he was broke, in order to reduce a $6 million fine on charges of fraud.