News East West
NEW YORK: Indian American hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, 70, who owns Hampshire Hotels and has been a big backer of the Democratic Party, has pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions of $188,000 to three US candidates through straw donors.
Chatwal, who just two weeks ago stepped down as the CEO of his privately owned hotel chain and named Eric Danziger his successor, faces up to 25 years in jail.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty that he violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. “I plead guilty, sir,’’ said Chatwal before U.S. District Judge Leo Glasser here. He has entered into a plea bargain under which Chatwal will not appeal any sentence less than 5-1/4 years and forfeit $1 million to the government. He was released on $750,000 bail and will be sentenced on July 31.
The illegal donations were made between 2007 and 2011.
Under American laws, an individual can contribute only $4,800 to a candidate. Till 2010, the limit was $4,600 per candidate.
But Chatwal, who runs the chain of Hampshire Hotels, used straw donors – his employees or business partners or other associates – to make donations to the three candidates. What Chatwal was doing was to pay these people the money which they would then donate to the candidates in their names.
One of the three candidates was reportedly Hillary Clinton who may be running for the US presidency in 2016.
A former India Air Force officer, Chatwal comes from Faridkot in Punjab. He first went to Ethiopia to start hotel business and then came to New York to set up his hotel company in 1986.
The Indian government conferred the Padma Bhushan on Chatwal in 2010 despite protests over his alleged default on a $9 million loan from the State Bank of India which was investigated by the CBI.
Chatwal is very close to the Clintons, with Bill Clinton attending his socialite son Vikram’s wedding in India in 2006.