Saying that “political corruption is slowly eroding the foundations of our Democracy,” a federal judge sentenced a former Iowa state senator to 15 months in prison for accepting money in an endorsement scheme, even though prosecutors had sought only probation.
Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson took a payment for endorsing presidential candidate Ron Paul in 2012. In announcing his surprise decision, Judge Robert Pratt said that those who betray the public trust in such a way must be punished.
Sorenson was a sought-after Iowa politician as GOP presidential candidates began campaigning in Iowa in advance of the state’s January 2012 Republican caucuses. He betrayed not only the public, but also Michele Bachmann’s campaign: He first accepted $59,000 for endorsing her before taking $73,000 for endorsing Paul.
Iowa Senate rules prohibit lawmakers from taking money from political campaigns.
Sorenson initially denied the endorsement scheme to a state Senate committee, but he resigned in October 2013 after the committee concluded that he had taken payments in exchange for his endorsements. He also lied to federal agents who were investigating whether the Paul campaign illegally concealed the payments.
In a plea deal, Sorensen agreed to testify against three Ron Paul campaign aides, who were charged with covering up the payments. Campaign chairman Jesse Benton and campaign manager John Tate received two years’ probation, and deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari received up to three months in prison. All are appealing their convictions.
Federal prosecutor Richard Pilger asked for two years of probation and community service for Sorenson, even though the maximum penalties for the charges he faced — causing false reports and obstructing an investigation — were 25 years in prison.
Pratt said that Sorenson only came forward after the FBI raided his house and took evidence showing that Sorenson took secret payments while serving as a publicly elected official.
Although Sorenson expressed remorse, his family lashed out in anger. Following the sentencing, members of his family threateningly drove an SUV over a curb and onto the courthouse sidewalk and concrete entryway near reporters. A federal security agent pounded his fist on the vehicle and told the Sorenson family to get the vehicle away from the building.
The vehicle sped away as a daughter flashed an obscene hand gesture and cursed at reporters through an open window.
Sorenson didn’t comment.