The 48-years-old American-Albanian Bilal Shehu, who pleaded guilty to channeling $80,000 of foreign funds to a San Francisco fundraising event of former President Barack Obama in October 2012. According to court documents, Shehu had received the funds from “a foreign national” who was later “denied entry” to the event. On Thursday, Shehu was sentenced to a year of probation by the Federal Court of Newark.
According to US law, it is illegal to accept campaign donations from foreign sources. In a statement from 2016, the Department of Justice declared:
In September 2012, Shehu, a U.S. citizen living in New Jersey, received approximately $80,000 from a foreign source and provided it to a joint fundraising committee – including the authorized campaign committee of the president – to disguise the true origin of the money and so that a foreign national could attend a campaign event on Oct. 8, 2012, in San Francisco. Federal law prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions to federal candidates or fundraising committees and, in order to attend the event, a foreign national needed to be accompanied by a U.S. citizen. Shehu admitted that he received an $80,000 wire transfer into his New Jersey-based bank account from a foreign bank account in late September 2012, knowing that he was to provide it to the joint fundraising committee. In early October 2012, Shehu flew to San Francisco and attempted to gain entry into the San Francisco fundraising event with the foreign national, who was denied entry but was allowed to be photographed with the President.
Coincidentally, current Prime Minister Edi Rama had visited the fundraising event in San Francisco with Bilal Shehu, although he was denied entrance at the door because his ticket was allegedly in the name of Shehu’s wife. He later managed to take a picture with President Obama outside the event, which circulated widely during the 2013 Albanian election campaign.
The opposition Democratic Party claimed later that the $80,000 of foreign campaign contributions were to be linked to Prime Minister Rama, who however denied visiting “any of President Obama’s electoral meetings.”
William Argeros, another US citizen implicated in the scheme, is scheduled to be sentenced on February 14. Argeros is accused of funneling the money from a foreign source to Shehu’s bank account.