By David Jones
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A New Jersey man was sentenced on Tuesday to two years probation for conspiring with his brother to funnel illegal contributions to the campaign of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez.
Benedetto Bigica, 46, who lives in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, and owns a private radiology firm, pleaded guilty in federal court in January to conspiring to make $21,400 in illegal campaign contributions from 2005 to 2008, according to prosecutors.
Bigica was accused of acting as a straw donor on behalf of his brother, Joseph Bigica, 47, an independent insurance broker, who later reimbursed him for the illegal payments.
Neither Menendez, a Democratic senator who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, nor his campaign were accused of wrongdoing in the case.
Benedetto Bigica faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Faith Hochberg sentenced him to two years probation after U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman urged leniency, noting Bigica gained no personal benefit from the crime.
"You are not your brother's keeper. Perhaps you were too loyal," the judge told Benedetto Bigica at the sentencing.
Bigica also was fined $8,600.
Joseph Bigica pleaded guilty in May 2012 to failing to pay more than $2 million in personal income taxes and using 19 straw donors to funnel almost $98,600 to the Menendez campaign. Prosecutors said that while Joseph Bigica claimed he was unable to pay the taxes, he spent lavishly on a vacation home in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and bought luxury cars, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.
Hochberg in December sentenced Joseph Bigica to 36 months for interfering with administration of Internal Revenue laws and 60 months on one count of conspiring to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal to donate campaign funds in the name of another contributor and limits the amount an individual may contribute.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Dan Grebler)