Bloomberg News

Biden Donor Tigani Pleads Guilty to Violating Campaign Laws

June 10, 2011

(Updates with Biden’s son in sixth paragraph.)

June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Delaware businessman Christopher Tigani, who donated money in 2007 to Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential race, pleaded guilty to violating campaign- contribution laws.

Tigani, former president of NKS Distributors Inc., yesterday admitted in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, that he broke federal election laws by reimbursing his employees for contributions he ordered them to make in 2007. Those contributions included $70,400 made to a presidential campaign committee, according to court filings.

Tigani made two contributions on Aug. 30, 2007, one in his name and another using a family member’s name, according to prosecutors, who didn’t identify the recipient in court papers. The Federal Election Commission, on its website, said Tigani and his ex-wife, Candice Tigani, donated $4,600 to Biden for President Inc. that same day.

U.S. prosecutors said outside of court that Tigani’s plea is part of a wider criminal probe in cooperation with state officials. They wouldn’t identify the focus of the probe.

“The investigation is broad in scope and extends beyond campaign contributions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiss said in an interview.

Weiss said potential violations of state laws would be referred to the Delaware Department of Justice, headed by Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, the vice president’s son. In anticipation of a possible state investigation, Beau Biden today recused himself from any local probe and said he would appoint an independent counsel, according to his spokesman, Jason Miller, in Wilmington.

‘Sham’ Campaign Drive

Federal prosecutors contend Tigani created a “sham” campaign drive for the unidentified presidential candidate in 2007 by soliciting checks from his beer distributorship’s employees and then reimbursing them with company funds, according to charging papers made public yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Sleet in Wilmington set sentencing for Sept. 20. Tigani faces a maximum prison term of 16 years, prosecutors said in a statement.

Outside the courtroom, Tigani declined to comment on his plea. Candice Tigani didn’t return a call for comment on her 2007 contribution to Biden’s campaign.

The Aug. 30, 2007, donations were made to “Campaign Committee A,” records filed by federal prosecutors showed. “The total amount of illegal conduit contributions to Campaign Committee A in calendar year 2007 was $70,400,” according to a plea agreement signed by Tigani yesterday.

Weiss declined to identify Campaign Committee A. He referred reporters to FEC documents, saying they would show the identity.

Anheuser Busch

Tigani, 40, lost control of New Castle, Delaware-based NKS, which has the exclusive right to distribute Anheuser-Busch InBev’s beers in Delaware, in a 2009 dispute with his father. Tigani made more than $47,000 in campaign contributions during the past decade, FEC records show.

Those donations included $7,500 to Biden during a six-year period starting in 2001, according to FEC records. Biden, formerly a Democratic U.S. Senator from Delaware in 2008, ran for president before accepting President Barack Obama’s offer to become vice president.

Tigani and his family members gave Biden another $12,300 during the period, according to the records. A $1,200 donation made Tigani one of the top 20 individual contributors to Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to Follow the Money, a website that tracks political donations.

‘No Knowledge’

“We had absolutely no knowledge of these activities,” Amy Dudley, a spokeswoman for Biden, said yesterday in an e-mail.

Tigani also contributed $2,300 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007, FEC records show. In addition, he gave $2,000 to former President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

Tigani “illegally bundled campaign contributions” totaling at least $219,800, prosecutors said in a statement yesterday. He was charged over contributions he made to candidates for president, the senate, governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer and other offices, prosecutors said, without identifying the candidates.

Tigani also pleaded guilty to making false statements on his 2005 and 2006 tax returns, according to the statement.

Bankruptcy Protection

Tigani sought bankruptcy protection last year to stop a foreclosure sale of his 23,937-square-foot mansion northwest of Wilmington. The home had been owned by Charles Cawley, founder of credit-card issuer MBNA, which Bank of America Corp. acquired for $34.2 billion in 2006.

Wilmington Trust Co., a unit of M&T Bank Corp., began foreclosure proceedings after Tigani failed to make payments on his $4.1 million mortgage on the home, according to court records.

The bank was the only bidder for the 1929 stone mansion at a January auction and bought it for $2.1 million, according to court records. The property includes a carriage house, formal garden and 18-vehicle garage.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Tigani, 11-cr-42, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington). Tigani’s bankruptcy case is In re Christopher J. Tigani, 10-11855, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

--With assistance from Dawn McCarty, Sophia Pearson and Michael Bathon in Wilmington, Delaware. Editors: Stephen Farr, Michael Hytha

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net; Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware at pmilford@bloomberg.net; Steven Church in Wilmington, Delaware, at schurch3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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