US political consultant Samuel Patten avoids prison time in case linked to Mueller's Russia probe

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WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A US judge on Friday (April 12) sentenced Republican political consultant Samuel Patten to 36 months of probation, 500 hours of community service and a US$5,000 (S$6,700) fine in a case spun out of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Patten, 47, pleaded guilty in August to communicating with US lawmakers and news media organisations on behalf of a Russia-aligned political party in Ukraine called the Opposition Bloc without disclosing that work to the Justice Department, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), among other offences.

Patten is a former business partner of Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national indicted by Mueller and accused of having ties to Russian intelligence.

In Patten's guilty plea he also admitted to arranging for a US citizen to act as a straw purchaser to pay US$50,000 for four tickets to the inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump on behalf of a Ukrainian oligarch, who reimbursed Patten through a Cypriot account.

Patten, who spoke briefly at the hearing, said he "fully recognised" that he committed serious criminal conduct.

"I behaved as though the law didn't apply to me and that was wrong," he said.

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Patten's violation of FARA was "not a mere technicality" and undermined the democratic process.

"Hiding the truth of who one represents from policymakers undermines our political discourse and diminishes the quality of our policymaking because people need the facts for democracy to work," Berman Jackson said.

But the judge said she believed Patten's remorse was genuine and said she credited his substantial cooperation with the special counsel's office.

"You have told me in no uncertain terms that you accept responsibility for your actions. You didn't try to justify them, and you didn't try to blame them on anyone else," Berman Jackson said to Patten, adding "that doesn't happen everyday in this courtroom."

Berman Jackson said the acceptance of responsibility was one reason Patten received a much lighter sentence than former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Berman Jackson last month sentenced Manafort to 73 months in prison for two conspiracy charges arising from the Mueller probe - a sentence called unnecessary and hostile by a Manafort lawyer.

Patten's lawyer had asked for a sentence of probation, saying his case was unlike other FARA prosecutions, which have typically involved a lobbyist attempting to conceal the identity of the client and the source of funds.

Prosecutors had not suggested a specific sentence but said leniency was warranted given Patten's cooperation with the special counsel's probe.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, who started investigating Patten after receiving a referral from Mueller, said in a court filing on Monday that Patten met or spoke with government investigators on the phone nine times.

He was also willing to serve as a witness in one of two cases against Manafort, who had also worked for the Opposition Bloc. Manafort ultimately pleaded guilty, obviating the need for a trial.

Patten's case has sparked interest in Washington amid a widening crackdown by the Justice Department on undisclosed lobbying.

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