WASHINGTON — An American lobbyist was sentenced Friday to three years of probation and a $5,000 fine for failing to register as a foreign agent for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine and for helping a Ukrainian billionaire illegally purchase tickets to President Trump’s inauguration.
The case against the lobbyist, Samuel Patten, highlighted how the Ukrainian political party sought to gain influence in the United States by hiring American consultants who could lobby on their behalf and make connections to the new Trump administration.
Mr. Patten, a longtime Republican operative whose family was once part of Washington’s social elite, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists for foreign interests to disclose their work to the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors stepped up enforcement of the often-ignored law in lock step with the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
“The crimes that I committed are a source of great shame and regret for me,” Mr. Patten, 47, wrote in a letter to Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court in Washington. “I should be punished for this.”
Judge Jackson said she was most disturbed by Mr. Patten’s misstatements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about his work in Ukraine and his purchase of the inaugural tickets. She also said his failure to register as a foreign lobbyist for Ukraine was not “a mere technicality” or an oversight, but a serious omission that deprived the American public and members of Congress of information necessary to judge the motivations of lobbyists.
“People need the facts for democracy to work,” she said.
Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors uncovered evidence of Mr. Patten’s offenses while investigating Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was recently sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for financial fraud and conspiracy. Mr. Mueller’s team turned the case over to the United States attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.
Although they did not recommend any specific sentence, the prosecutors argued for leniency, saying that Mr. Patten had quickly pleaded guilty and had cooperated with the government in several enforcement matters, including the prosecution of Mr. Manafort. Mr. Patten’s lawyer asked for probation. The charges carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Judge Jackson said she had decided to spare Mr. Patten prison time because he moved quickly to admit his guilt, worked hard to help the special counsel’s investigation and seemed truly remorseful. “You have done everything in your power to make amends,” she said.
Both Mr. Manafort’s and Mr. Patten’s offenses were rooted in their work for pro-Russia billionaires in Ukraine, who paid tens of millions of dollars to western lobbyists and law firms to help shape their political party’s message to the West. Mr. Patten essentially picked up where Mr. Manafort left off in 2014, when Viktor F. Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician whom Mr. Manafort helped elevate to Ukraine’s presidency, was forced from power and fled to Moscow.
Like Mr. Manafort, Mr. Patten formed a partnership with Konstantin V. Kilimnik, a Russian operative in Ukraine who prosecutors have linked to Russian intelligence. From 2015 to 2017, a political party called the Opposition Bloc paid Mr. Patten’s company more than $1 million, depositing the funds in a bank account in Cyprus.
As part of his work, Mr. Patten arranged meetings in Washington between Ukrainian oligarchs and members of Congress and their staffs, without disclosing his activities to the Justice Department, as required. He also drafted op-ed articles for the oligarchs that were published by American media outlets. The description of one op-ed appeared to match one that bore the name of one oligarch and was published in U.S. News & World Report in February 2017. It argued that Mr. Trump would be good for Ukraine and criticized Ukraine’s current leadership.
Mr. Patten also arranged for a straw donor to purchase four tickets for $50,000 so that a Ukrainian billionaire could attend a Trump inaugural event. It is illegal for foreigners to contribute to presidential inaugural funds, campaigns or political action committees.
In a sentencing memorandum, Mr. Patten’s lawyer said his client thought he was merely giving the Ukrainian access to a postelection party, not creating an avenue for influence-peddling. Mr. Patten wrote the judge: “I could have told my client ‘no,’ when he asked me to buy him tickets to the Inauguration party, but I was too eager to please and I broke a rule in doing so.”
Federal prosecutors in New York are now investigating whether there were other illegal foreign donations to the inaugural events in addition to the one that Mr. Patten arranged.