RENO — Harvey Whittemore’s lawyer says that despite his client’s illegal campaign fundraising conviction, the man prosecutors called “King of the Hill” in Nevada politics is a long way from prison.
Whittemore, former head of a billion-dollar development company, was convicted recently of unlawfully sending campaign money to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid in 2007. The ex-lobbyist now faces 15 years behind bars.
His lawyer, Dominic Gentile, doesn’t see that happening.
Gentile says the U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling in a separate case that effectively will overturn Whittemore’s conviction. He also says his client has a strong case for appeal and that he’s never seen anyone jailed on similar charges.
The high court is reviewing the case of an Alabama man who says limits on contribution limits are an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
Whittemore was found guilty last week of exceeding the $4,600 limit on campaign contributions as well as using others as “straw donors” to send nearly $150,000 to Reid.
Gentile also says U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks applied the wrong legal standard with jury instructions based on a current interpretation of federal election laws, not the one that existed when Whittemore wrote personal checks to donors who in turn sent money to Reid’s campaign.
Finally, Gentile said the other defendants convicted of such crimes were sentenced to probation, not prison.
He acknowledged the others made deal with authorities and pleaded guilty; Whittemore did not.
“If he had it to do over again, Mr. Whittemore would not plead guilty because he is not guilty,” Gentile said at a conference table overlooking downtown Reno with Whittemore and his wife, Annette, less than an hour after the guilty verdicts were read Wednesday.
“If you don’t bet, you can’t win,” he said.
Gentile is betting the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will overturn Whittemore’s convictions. They plan to challenge the ruling after sentencing set for Sept. 23 in district court in Reno.