Del. Developer Pleads to Illegal Campaign Contributions
DOVER, Del. (AP)- A prominent Delaware developer pleaded guilty Tuesday to making illegal campaign contributions to Gov. Jack Markell in 2008.
Michael Zimmerman, 56, was immediately sentenced to one year probation as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
"This agreement closes the criminal investigation," deputy attorney general Sean Lugg told Superior Court Judge Robert Young.
Zimmerman pleaded guilty to making campaign contributions without divulging their true source.
Campaign finance records show contributions to Markell in 2008 from Zimmerman, his family members and business partners.
"I understand I was wrong," Zimmerman told the judge. "It was my fault and no one else's."
"I'm embarrassed for my family, my family name," added Zimmerman, whose father was a state senator.
Zimmerman was ordered to pay a fine of $21,600 and perform 50 hours of community service.
Dan Lyons, Zimmerman's attorney, said the $21,600 represents three times the amount of illegal campaign donations Zimmerman made, which would amount to $7,200, or six of the maximum $1,200 individual contributions allowed under state law.
But Martin Lessner, an attorney for the Markell for Delaware campaign, said Tuesday that a special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Beau Biden to investigate campaign finances in Delaware had identified 13 improper contributions from Zimmerman to Markell of $1,200 each, or a total of $15,600.
Lessner also said special prosecutor E. Norman Veasey had told the Markell campaign that making charitable donations in an amount equal to the illegal campaign contributions would be an appropriate remedy.
In an email, Lessner said the campaign "has been in touch with Mr. Veasey about the unlawful contributions he alleges involve Mr. Zimmerman ... and has donated to charity the contributions he identified."
Last week, another politically connected businessman, Kemal Erkan, admitted making a total of $1,500 in illegal campaign contributions to Markell. In return, Veasey, a retired chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, agreed not to seek criminal charges against Erkan, the CEO of United Medical LLC, a Newark, N.J.-based health care management firm.
Erkan acknowledged making six contributions of $250 each in the names of other individuals, then reimbursing six United Medical employees for contributions they purportedly made. In a deal with Veasey, Erkan and his company were ordered to pay $7,500 each, and Erkan must perform 100 hours of community service. According to a United Medical website, Erkan served on finance committees for Markell, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. John Carney.
No charges have been brought against any political candidates or office holders in Delaware as the result of state and federal campaign finance investigations.
Beau Biden appointed Veasey as an independent counsel and special prosecutor in 2011 amid a campaign finance probe that involved Biden's father, Vice President Joe Biden. The probe centered on a federal investigation of Christopher Tigani, who pleaded guilty to using his family's alcoholic beverage distributorship to make illegal campaign contributions to state and federal candidates, including Joe Biden.
Beau Biden, who also received campaign contributions from Tigani, recused himself from the investigation.
Tigani was sentenced last year to two years in prison on federal charges of illegal campaign contributions and income tax fraud. In May, he was sentenced in state court to probation after pleading guilty in a related state case, which included illegal contributions to Markell.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors charged Zimmerman earlier this year with conspiracy, money laundering and making false statements to a financial institution amid an investigation of the lending practices of the failed Wilmington Trust bank.
Prosecutors allege that Zimmerman obtained more than $37 million in financing from Wilmington Trust for three construction projects, then diverted construction loans for unauthorized purposes.
In a court filing Monday, federal prosecutors charged one of Zimmerman's business partners, Salvatore Leone, with conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
Joseph Terranova, a former Wilmington Trust executive who worked closely with Zimmerman, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
Wilmington Trust also is the subject of a securities class-action lawsuit alleging that senior officers and executives played fast and loose with the company's real estate loan portfolio, perpetrating a fraud that led to the demise of the 107-year-old bank.
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