DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson, who accepted money for endorsing presidential candidate Ron Paul in 2012, was sentenced to 15 months in prison Tuesday — even though prosecutors had sought only probation.
In Judge Robert Pratt's surprise decision, he said "political corruption is slowly eroding the foundations of our Democracy" and those who betray the public trust must be punished.
Minutes before Pratt announced the sentence in federal court in Des Moines, Sorenson said he is filled with regret and apologized to the people of Iowa and his former colleagues in the Iowa Legislature. The Republican, who was a sought-after Iowa politician as GOP presidential candidates began campaigning in Iowa in advance of the January 2012 Iowa caucuses, said he was "cocky, arrogant and filled with misguided ideas" after defeating a Democratic incumbent to win his Senate seat.
Sorenson first signed on as Iowa chairman of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign but shifted support to Ron Paul just days before the caucuses. Even though Iowa Senate rules prohibit lawmakers from taking money from a political campaign, Sorenson accepted $59,000 from Bachmann's campaign, then $73,000 for an endorsement of Paul.
Pratt allowed Sorenson, now 44, to remain free on bond and report to prison when told, likely in a few weeks.
Sorenson initially told a state Senate committee that he didn't take the money, but he resigned in October 2013 when the committee concluded he'd taken money. He also lied to federal agents who were investigating whether the Paul campaign illegally concealed the payments but later decided to cooperate with the government.
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 Tuesday that Sorenson only came forward after the FBI raided his house and took evidence, and pointed out Sorenson took secret payments while serving as a publicly elected official.
"A term of incarceration is required to reflect the seriousness of the offense and deter systemic political corruption," he said.
Outside of the courthouse, members of Sorenson's family threateningly drove an SUV over a curb and onto the courthouse sidewalk and concrete entryway near reporters — and a few feet from the front door in an apparent attempt to shield Sorenson. 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.
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