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July 1, 1999
Sentencing Date for Yogesh Gandhi Set; Could Serve A Year In Prison And Deported to India
Rupa Kurian in Washington
Three years ago Yogesh K Gandhi made headlines when he handed over a hefty $ 325,000 donation to the Democrats. But last week, the already disgraced Gandhi, who still claims to be a relative of Mahatma Gandhi, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, tax evasion and violating federal election law over his contributions. Gandhi, who would be sentenced on November 5, faces 12 to 18 months in prison and could be deported to India when he is set free.
The Mahatma's kin have repeatedly said Yogesh is such a distant relation to the Mahatma that it is a shame to link the two men. "He has not only taken the Mahatma's name to mud but has brought shame to Indian fundraisers in general," said an Indian American Democrat who asked for anonymity. "Because of people like Yogesh Gandhi our image has been soiled."
He avoided a longer sentence because of a plea deal he reached with the Justice Department which said he admitted the money he donated was really an illegal political campaign contribution by a foreign national.
Gandhi once headed a California foundation named after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He appeared at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser in 1996 with a life-size bust of the Mahatma and $ 325,000. The event was attended by Bill Clinton. The money and the bust was returned to Gandhi after Clinton's victory when the White House learned of his dubious business links, following articles in conservative papers which alleged that he had not paid his income tax and was linked to a rightwing Japanese cult figure.
Gandhi later testified in court that he had no assets in America and was living off his brother's credit card. A report of the senate governmental affairs committee states that John Huang arranged Gandhi's meeting with Clinton, and that the money had been wired from one of Gandhi's business associates in Japan. Huang, once a close friend of Clinton, has admitted to wrongdoing in raising campaign funds.
FBI agents arrested Gandhi in March last year on unrelated fraud charges, saying he was planning to leave the country for India. He was arrested at his home in Walnut Creek, Calif, for allegedly forging associate Donald Shimer's name on American Express corporate card applications.
His arrest came as a result of a tip received by Dan Burton, a Republican Congressman from Indiana, who is wellknown for his anti-India stance and links with Khalistanis.
Last year he headed the US House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, which investigated illegal campaign fund-raising.
Burton then relayed details of Gandhi's flight itinerary to FBI Director Louis Freeh, who ordered the arrest.
In a court affidavit, the FBI said the $ 325,000 came from a foreign source and that Gandhi "is suspected to have acted as an illegal conduit."
According to the Justice Department, the FBI learned about the alleged mail fraud from Shimer, who was executive director of the Gandhi Foundation in the late 1980s. He resigned from the post seven years ago.
According to the FBI affidavit, Shimer tried to make a purchase on his personal American Express card in May 1996, but the transaction was rejected.
He was told by American Express that he was behind on payments on two corporate cards. Shimer says since he did not have any such cards, he obtained copies of the card applications and recognized Gandhi's handwriting. The address on both was the Gandhi Foundation, which was also the address of Gandhi's home in Orinda, California.
The applications showed that additional American Express cards were to be issued in the name of Yogesh Gandhi and Kristi Marshall, who is Gandhi's wife, the affidavit said.
Shimer, according to the affidavit, said he confronted Gandhi over the telephone. Gandhi sent him a hand-written note pledging to pay off the accounts. He later sent Shimer a $ 10,000 check, according to the FBI.
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