Political Operative Convicted of Federal Campaign Finance Crimes in Two Congressional Campaigns and of Obstructing Investigation by Federal Election Commission
A jury sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania convicted longtime political operative Kenneth Smukler, 58, of Villanova, Pennsylvania, today on charges of making and concealing illegal campaign contributions in two Congressional primary elections, and of obstructing justice in an investigation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“Today’s convictions demonstrate the Department of Justice’s commitment to ensuring a level playing field in the financing of federal elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “We will hold accountable those who violate campaign finance and other laws designed to protect the fairness and transparency of our democracy.”
“Smukler was the mastermind of multiple crooked political schemes,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “He showed a true pattern of deception by misusing funds and lying to corrupt the entire political process. The only way to guarantee open and fair elections is to have everyone play by the same rules. Smukler ignored those rules and broke the law so that his candidates could try to win at all costs. We are grateful that the jury saw through his lies and held him accountable for his widespread criminal conduct.”
The jury found Smukler guilty of conspiracy to violate federal law, making and causing unlawful campaign contributions and causing false statements to the FEC in connection with a 2012 congressional primary campaign in a Philadelphia-area Congressional district. The jury further found Smukler guilty of making and causing unlawful campaign contributions, causing the filing of false reports to the FEC concerning contributions and expenditures, causing false statements to the FEC in connection with a 2014 congressional primary campaign in another Philadelphia-area Congressional district, and obstructing an FEC investigation.
In 2012, Smukler engaged in a conspiracy to make a concealed payment of $90,000 to Congressional candidate and former Philadelphia Municipal Judge Jimmie Moore to get Judge Moore to drop out of the primary election race. Smukler, who worked for another candidate, orchestrated the payment of the money through his own companies, a shell company of Judge Moore’s campaign manager, Carolyn Cavaness, and another campaign consultant, D.A. Jones. Judge Moore, Cavaness, and Jones all have pleaded guilty separately.
From 2014 through 2015, Smukler, as a campaign manager, also made, caused, and concealed excess and conduit contributions and engaged in a falsification and obstruction scheme involving a different Congressional candidate. The excess contributions came from associates of Smukler and were funneled through two of Smukler’s consulting companies. The conduit contributions were routed through another political consultant and the candidate.
The jury found that in or about April 2014, Smukler became aware that the campaign was running out of funds that it could spend on primary election expenses. Smukler nevertheless directed the campaign to continue paying for goods and services associated with the primary election. In or about May 2014, one of Smukler’s companies made a $78,750 payment to the campaign that was used to pay for primary election expenses. Smukler falsely told the campaign that this money came from a “segregated media account,” when in fact the payment was funded by an associate of Smukler’s and therefore constituted an illegal campaign contribution.
Moreover, after Smukler’s candidate lost the primary election, the campaign did not have sufficient funds to repay the contributions that the campaign had received for the general election. To conceal this shortfall, Smukler funneled illegal contributions totaling $150,000 from an associate to the campaign through two of Smukler’s consulting companies. Smukler falsely told the campaign that these payments were refunds of money that had been “escrowed” in Smukler’s companies for general election expenses, when, in fact, the money had come not from any such account but from Smukler’s associate, and the money could not have been “escrowed” campaign funds because Smukler’s companies had already spent a significant portion of the funds they had received from the campaign.
Smukler further caused the campaign to falsely characterize the payments from his companies as refunds in FEC reports and in a letter to the FEC from unwitting campaign counsel, which led the FEC to dismiss a pending complaint against the campaign by another candidate in the primary.
The jury also convicted Smukler of making unlawful conduit contributions to the campaign in 2014, through Jones, and again in 2015 through the candidate herself.
Judge Jan E. DuBois set sentencing for March 13, 2019.
The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Richard C. Pilger, Director of the Election Crimes Branch of the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division; Rebecca Moses, Trial Attorney of the Public Integrity Section and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Gibson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.