09/09/97 - 02:52 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Husband, wife are first sentenced in fund-raising probe

WASHINGTON - Meting out the first punishment in the campaign finance investigation, a federal judge sentenced a husband-wife team of Democratic money-raisers Tuesday to 10 months confinement and $30,000 fines apiece.

Nora Lum, once a frequent visitor to the Clinton White House, cried as she told U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina that her family has been hurt and friends "have turned against me" after the couple's guilty plea to conspiracy.

They admitted to using "straw donors" to conceal their $50,000 in illegal donations. The money went to the re-election effort of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and the unsuccessful congressional candidacy of W. Stuart Price of Oklahoma in 1994 and 1995.

The Lums' daughter, Trisha, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of acting as an illegal conduit for a $10,000 donation that her mother made to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Nora and Gene Lum will serve half their terms in a community confinement center and the other half in home detention.

The Lums' lawyer, Cono Namorato, said the California business couple has been largely "ostracized by the community that once looked up to them."

Namorato said there is a stigma because the Lums are cooperating with the wide-ranging Justice Department probe of fund-raising abuses. However, prosecutor Raymond Hulser made no recommendation regarding a light sentence for the Lums. Prosecutors sometimes make such recommendations when witnesses provide particularly important information about other people who are under scrutiny in a criminal investigation.

Hulser depicted the Lums as two savvy business people who "knew the rules" about campaign fund-raising and engaged in a pattern of illegal activity that gave them access to influential politicians.

At Kennedy's home in 1995, the Lums were seated at the "most prestigious" table of a "small, very expensive, elite" fund-raising event, said Hulser.

They funneled their own money and that of one of their corporations into campaigns - disguising the source by using the names of more than 20 people.

Asking the judge to "spare Nora the most lenient sentence you can," Gene Lum told the judge that "I apologize to the government of the United States and to our friends for having committed this serious act."

The guilty pleas are the first obtained by the task force set up by Attorney General Janet Reno after the Democratic National Committee returned nearly $3 million in donations, mostly from illegal, foreign sources.

The case against the Lums sprang from an independent counsel's investigation of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's business dealings. After Brown died in a plane crash in Croatia last year, the independent counsel handed the evidence he had gathered to the Justice Department.

By The Associated Press

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