Former Iowa state senator enters federal guilty plea

Sorenson resigned his seat in October 2013

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August 27, 2014 | 3:37 pm

DES MOINES — A former state senator who resigned his seat in October 2013 amid allegations he violated Iowa Senate rules and made false statements to ethics investigators pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of concealing campaign expenditures.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Kent Sorenson, 42, of Milo, pleaded guilty to one count of causing a federal campaign committee to falsely report its expenditures to the Federal Election Commission and one count of obstruction of justice in connection with the concealed expenditures.

“An elected official admitted that he accepted under-the-table payments from a campaign committee to secure his support and services for a candidate in the 2012 presidential election,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement.

“Campaign finance reports should be accurate and transparent, not tools for concealing campaign expenditures,” he added. “Lying by public officials — whether intended to obstruct the FEC or federal investigators — violates the public trust and the law, and the Department of Justice does not tolerate it.”

The guilty plea was taken by Chief Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer of Iowa’s southern judicial district for later review by Senior District Court Judge Robert Pratt. Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date. For falsely reporting expenditures, Sorenson faces a maximum of five years in prison, and up to 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice, a Justice Department spokesman said.

“Today, Mr. Sorenson has taken responsibility for his crimes,” said Acting Assistant Director in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI’s Washington Field Office in a statement. “Exploiting the political process for personal gain will not be tolerated, and we will continue to pursue those who commit such illegal actions.”

According to a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Sorenson admitted that he had supported one campaign for the 2012 presidential election but, from October to December 2011, he met and secretly negotiated with a second political campaign to switch his support to that second campaign in exchange for concealed payments that amounted to $73,000.

On Dec. 28, 2011, at a political event in Des Moines, Sorenson publicly announced his switch of support and work from one candidate to the other. Sorenson had helped manage Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s GOP presidential bid in Iowa before switching his support to Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

According to the Justice Department information, the payments included monthly installments of about $8,000 each and were concealed by transmitting them to a film-production company, then through a second company, and finally to Sorenson and his spouse.

In response to criticism of his change of support for the candidates, Sorenson gave interviews to the media denying allegations that he was receiving any money from the second campaign committee, and noted that the committee’s FEC filings would show that the committee made no payments to him, according to the statement of fact issued by the Justice Department.

In his plea agreement, Sorenson also admitted that he gave false testimony to an independent counsel appointed at the request of the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, which was investigating allegations from a former employee of the first presidential campaign. Sorenson testified falsely to the independent counsel about the concealed payments, in part to obstruct investigations that he anticipated by the FBI and FEC.

Last October, Sorenson resigned his Senate District 13 seat in Madison and Warren counties just hours after a special prosecutor found probable cause that he violated Senate rules and may have committed the offense of felonious misconduct in office by “knowingly” making false statements to the Senate’s ethics panel.

In his lengthy report, independent counsel Mark Weinhardt determined there was probable cause that the Milo Republican violated Senate rules by “accepting compensation” from entities associated with former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s campaign “in exchange for his service” during the past caucus season.

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