Gore Backer Acquitted in Money Trial
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A longtime political supporter of Vice President Al Gore was acquitted today of charges he funneled about $100,000 in illegal contributions to the President Clinton, Gore and other politicians.
Franklin L. Haney was found innocent of 42 charges that he tried to mask illegal political contributions in hopes of gaining influence with powerful Democrats.
Afterward Haney released a statement that said he was ``deeply gratified with today’s verdict.″
``We had faith that this day would come. ... We look forward to putting this trial behind us and getting on with our lives.″
Haney’ wife and five children attended the trial daily. Prosecutors had no comment.
They had charged that Haney recruited dozens of his employees, friends and people he barely knew to be straw donors for the 1992 and 1996 Clinton-Gore campaigns.
The donors wrote checks that were immediately reimbursed by Haney in order to get around federal political contribution limits of $1,000 per person, prosecutor Pamela Huff had argued. The donors’ checks and related paperwork made it appear that the individuals, and not Haney, were giving money, she said.
Haney’s lawyer, Ted Wells, did not dispute that Haney doled out far more than his own individual limit, but said Haney misunderstood the campaign regulations and did not try to hide the ``gifts″ he gave to people who wrote political checks.
``Use your common sense,″ Wells told jurors Wednesday. ``If somebody thought there was something wrong they’d say, ’Here’s the (reimbursement) check, don’t say anything about it.‴
During six days of testimony, federal prosecutors tried to show that Haney, a law school graduate who once ran for Congress, was very familiar with campaign mechanics and regulations.
The Chattanooga millionaire whose projects include developing and leasing property for federal government offices was a sophisticated fund-raiser who hoped to wow potential business clients with his access to top politicians, including Clinton and Gore, Huff said.
Haney knew about the political campaign limits, knew it is illegal to use straw donors and knew that he was lying to the Federal Election Commission, Huff said. Several employees and cohorts knew it too, Huff said.
``It’s absolutely clear that he and his employees conspired to do this, and they did it,″ Huff said. ``To the tune of $100,000 they did it.″
Haney pleaded innocent last November in a case brought as part of a Justice Department investigation into unorthodox donations to the Clinton-Gore re-election effort in 1996 and other campaigns. He faces a maximum sentence of 146 years in federal prison if convicted of all counts, although federal sentencing guidelines would reduce that to less than 10 years. He has remained free since his arrest last year.
Wells did not call any witnesses, meaning the jury must decide Haney’s guilt or innocence based on documents and other evidence presented by prosecutors.
Haney was also at the center of a Justice Department investigation last year into whether he paid a $1 million reward to the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign’s manager, Peter Knight.
Knight, a former top aide to Gore, got the money shortly before he took the campaign job. Congressional Republicans issued a report in December questioning whether the money was an illegal contingency fee for helping get the Federal Communications Commission to move to a Haney development in Washington called Portals.
Haney and Knight both have said the payment represented legal fees for Knight’s work on several Haney projects over three years. Attorney General Janet Reno declined to appoint an independent counsel to look at the Knight-Haney matter.
In testimony at Haney’s trial, Knight said campaign officials did not notice anything amiss in the fund raising that Haney did for the campaign.