- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2011

Novelist Patricia Cornwell, billed as America’s No. 1 crime writer, is entangled in a real-life federal investigation into the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, court records show.

Evan Snapper, a former wealth manager awaiting sentencing in federal court in Washington, D.C., for illegal campaign donations, says he helped funnel campaign contributions as a favor to Ms. Cornwell, once an important and powerful client of his firm, according to a sentencing memo filed Friday.

“Mr. Snapper has acknowledged he took those steps on his own initiative to conceal the true purpose of the payments for political contributions, in order to protect his client,” the memo said.

But attorneys for Ms. Cornwell, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the government’s campaign finance probe, say they think Snapper falsely accused her in the bundling of illegal campaign cash for the Clinton campaign after she sued him.

The accusation was part of Ms. Cornwell’s ongoing civil lawsuit against Snapper and the firm where he used to work, which accuses them of mishandling the author’s finances. He and the firm are fighting the suit, which was filed in federal court in Massachusetts.

Snapper has pleaded guilty to helping funnel $48,300 in illegal campaign donations to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Prosecutors say he caused the Clinton campaign to “unwittingly” file false reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

In describing the case, federal prosecutors have said Snapper and 20 others agreed to buy tickets to an Elton John concert in April 2008 to raise money for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, with the understanding that they all would be reimbursed by one of his clients — described as “Person A.”

Federal law makes it illegal for a single individual to donate more than $2,500 to a campaign, and in 2008 the limit was $2,300. No campaign officials were accused of taking part in the scheme.

Prosecutors have not mentioned Ms. Cornwell in any court filings, but recent records in her civil lawsuit and Snapper’s sentencing memo leave little doubt about the identity of Person A: “For example, in handling Ms. Cornwell’s political contributions, Mr. Snapper knowingly and willfully caused the Hillary Clinton for President Committee to file with the [FEC] reports that falsely identified the source of approximately $48,300 in individual political contributions associated with Ms. Cornwell,” her attorneys argued.

Attorneys for Ms. Cornwell also say that after she filed her civil lawsuit against Snapper, he “sought to falsely accuse Ms. Cornwell of instructing Snapper to engage in the illegal bundling with the knowledge of its illegality,” filings state.

“As a result of these false allegations, Ms. Cornwell was compelled to incur substantial legal fees and related costs to assist the government in its investigation into the unlawful campaign contributions.”

Attorneys for Ms. Cornwell declined to comment, as did Snapper’s attorney.

Snapper is cooperating with federal authorities, according to filings in his criminal case. His sentencing memo also says he helped Ms. Cornwell — but not in her name — in campaigns for Republican James S. Gilmore III. The former Virginia governor was not immediately available after The Washington Times contacted the Free Congress Foundation, where he is the chief executive.

The memo said Snapper and his wife gave more than $9,000 to Mr. Gilmore’s presidential and Senate campaigns, but later reimbursed the money from an account belonging to Ms. Cornwell. Federal campaign law makes it illegal for a person to reimburse someone else for campaign donations. Snapper’s memo said Ms. Cornwell wasn’t comfortable donating money to him directly because of philosophical differences on gay marriage. In 2007, Ms. Cornwell disclosed her marriage to a woman named Staci Ann Gruber, the memo said.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman recently granted Snapper’s attorney, Evan Barr, permission to redact portions of his sentencing memo, which asks for no prison time.

Solomon Wisenberg, a Washington defense lawyer who specializes in white-collar cases and who served as deputy independent counsel, the No. 2 attorney in the investigation of White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the Whitewater investigation, said it’s not uncommon for sentencing memos to be sealed under certain circumstances. He said one example is when a defendant has cooperated or is continuing to cooperate in an ongoing federal investigation.

According to defense filings in Snapper’s criminal case, the FEC also is looking into the contributions. FEC attorneys and Snapper’s attorney have negotiated a potential settlement calling for a $65,000 penalty, records show.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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