Lawyers for a former National Republican Congressional Committee treasurer who is charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a lavish lifestyle are asking a federal judge to impose a 37-month prison sentence.
The defendant, Christopher Ward, pleaded guilty in September in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge that he stole more than $844,000 from March 2001 to December 2007. Ward was charged with interstate transportation of stolen money.
Prosecutors allege that Ward, who became the NRCC treasurer in 2003, wrote checks to himself and made unauthorized wire transfers, taking money from the NRCC and from political committee clients. Ward, a Maryland resident, ran a consulting firm on the side that specialized in Federal Election Commission regulations.
Ward admitted to his crimes in 2008 when questions arose about his failure to commission a required audit, Ward’s attorney said. Ward’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 2 in front of U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The sentence—37 months behind bars and three years of supervised release—was arranged through a plea deal that is subject to a district judge’s approval.
A lawyer for Ward, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner Howard Shapiro, said in court papers filed Tuesday that Ward has already paid a high price for his crimes. Ward, according to Shapiro, lost his job, wife, home and all of his assets. Shapiro said Ward owes $700,000 to the IRS. Ward’s divorce settlement calls for a $120,000 payment to his ex-wife and $3,650 a month in child support. The attorney said Ward "deeply regrets" stealing money.
“Mr. Ward takes full responsibility for the serious crime that he has committed and deeply regrets the violation of trust to his employer and clients,” said Shapiro, chair of Wilmer's litigation department. “Since his wrongful conduct came to light, Mr. Ward has fully cooperated with the government’s investigation and has sought to make amends for his mistakes.”
Ward faces a guideline range of between 37 months and 46 months, court records show. Shapiro said in court papers that the 37-month sentence is consistent with other fraud and white-collar cases “that resulted in a loss amount similar to or far more than in Mr. Ward’s case.”
Federal prosecutors support the 37-month prison term, calling it an appropriate sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crime and gives credit to Ward for his cooperation with the investigation of the offense.
Ward, according to the government, stole to fund a “lavish” lifestyle. In one 14-month period, Ward spent more than $65,000 for a country club membership in Maryland. He spent tens of thousands of dollars on vacation home rentals on Martha’s Vineyard. Ward, according to prosecutors, stole to “treat himself and others to unnecessary luxuries that he could not otherwise afford.”
One aggravating factor in the case is the nature of the victims, political committees and campaigns “engaged in political debate and the electoral process,” government lawyers said in court papers filed Tuesday.
“Stealing from these organizations did not merely undermine their political efforts,” assistant U.S. attorney Jonathan Haray said. “By stealing money obtained from political contributions, the defendant deprived individual donors of the opportunity to engage in political speech.”