The two-year prison sentence imposed on disgraced GOP operative Tyler Harber is the first step toward greater scrutiny of the consulting industry, federal prosecutors said Friday.
“The significant prison sentence imposed on Tyler Harber should cause other political operatives to think twice about circumventing laws that promote transparency in federal elections,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement after Judge Liam O'Grady handed Harber a 24-month sentence in federal court in Alexandria, Va. “As the first conviction for illegal campaign coordination, this case stands as an important step forward in the criminal enforcement of federal campaign finance laws.
The government credited Terry Wear, who runs the 11th district GOP in Virginia, with blowing the whistle on Harber. Without Wear’s legwork, Harber may have remained free to continue his fraud, prosecutors said.
While addressing the court Friday morning Harber repeatedly said he knew exactly what he was doing when he coordinated $325,000 in spending between the National Republican Victory Fund and Republican Chris Perkins’ 2012 House campaign, which he managed.
“I’m guilty of this. I knew it was wrong,” he said.
When pressed by Judge O'Grady on why he initiated the fraud, Harber said "I let my competitiveness allow me to cross that line." Harber also repeatedly told the judge that illegal coordination is a common practice in the campaign world. “It’s something I saw other people do,” he said.
Harber did express regret for his actions, which included threatening Wear using an alias and siphoning off $138,000 from the Super PAC for his own gain. Harber pleaded guilty in February to coordinating federal election contributions and lying to the FBI. He faced five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each offense.
“I embarrassed and humiliated myself, my family and my profession,” Harber said.
During sentencing, the defense asked for a 20-month sentence while the government sought 46 months in prison. “Harber maliciously betrayed his own political party to further his own political and financial aims in a long course of conduct that advanced to include directly lying to the FBI,” prosecutors said in their court filings. “He is, in short, the most dangerous sort of political operative by virtue of his knowledge and experience, and he employed both to successfully complete the crimes he intended.”
On Friday, O’Grady cited several of the letters the court received in support of Harber. Letters came in from family, friends, former neighbors and colleagues of Harber’s wife Cristin, who’s an aspiring romance novelist. Harber also received support from a former client and three fellow consultants.
David Clements, who ran for Senate in New Mexico in 2014, said Harber “took a chance” on his campaign. “To this day, I’m not sure why,” the appreciative Clements wrote.
Meanwhile, Jordan Lieberman, president of CampaignGrid, wrote that Harber was “among the most gifted teachers in our business.”
Rory McShane and Joseph Desilets, partners in the consulting firm 21st & Main, described Harber as a mentor. “I owe everything that I am today to Tyler Harber and his generosity and loyalty towards me,” Desilets wrote.
While making the case for a lighter sentence, Harber’s lawyers painted a picture of an uneven childhood, which was partly spent on a farm in Tennessee. Despite his “idyllic childhood” playing sports and being active in the Boy Scouts, Harber experienced hardship when his parents went through “financial ruin,” according to the filings.
Harber’s parents “started and ran a nuclear energy company whose biggest client was Enron. When Enron collapsed in 2001, so did the Harbers’ company,” his attorneys wrote. “It was a difficult time for Mr. Harber, not simply because his parents could not afford to pay for his college tuition, but because he hated to see his parents suffer.”
Some of the submission was redacted. For instance, his attorney’s noted Harber “suffers from serious, chronic medical conditions,” but the following paragraphs are blacked out. Later, they stated he suffers from depression.
His lawyers also laid bare the financial consequences of Harber’s criminal acts. “He and his wife face crippling credit card debt and have an overall negative net worth,” they wrote. “As such, with his actions, Mr. Harber has not only ruined his professional reputation but his family’s financial well-being as well. Beyond any sentence imposed by this Court, these are heavy burdens that Mr. Harber must bear.”
Meanwhile, Wear, the local Virginia GOP official who exposed Harber’s fraud, sent the judge a letter calling for a stiff sentence. “I am convinced Tyler Harber thought he would never be caught; and that he would continue to work variations of this scam for years, lining his pockets with money stolen from unsuspecting donors and garnering honors and awards from those in the campaign consulting industry,” said Wear, a former special assistant U.S. attorney.