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Prosecutors seeking jail time for Arthur Winn

Winn admitted making illegal contributions.

Federal prosecutors yesterday asked a US judge to sentence Boston developer Arthur Winn to six months in prison and fine him $200,000 for funneling illegal campaign contributions to politicians to get public subsidies for his ultimately failed Columbus Center project.

Winn is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court for engaging in a nearly eight-year scheme to hide thousands of dollars in contributions to politicians at local, state, and federal levels. Winn admitted to getting friends and family members to make the contributions, and then secretly reimbursing them to hide the source of the money.

“The use of illegal campaign contributions to funnel money to favored public officials inexorably leads the public to question whether private interests are attempting to buy elected officials’ support for their personal or business interests,’’ assistant US Attorney Ryan DiSantis wrote in the sentencing memorandum filed yesterday. “While such conduct may fall short of a legally cognizable bribery case . . . it certainly has the effect of shaking public trust in our system of governance.’’

The total amount of donations Winn has acknowledged making is about $64,000, but his lawyers said that he pleaded guilty to only a small portion of that - $4,500 that were made to a couple of Massachusetts congressmen. He could not be charged for the other donations because either the statute of limitations had expired or they were to state-level, not federal candidates.


Winn’s lawyers, R. Robert Popeo and Tracy Miner, argued that a prison sentence for the 72-year-old former chairman of the WinnCompanies would be out of step with similar cases and that Winn should pay a fine of $50,000.

The competing memorandums paint starkly different pictures of Winn, a longtime real estate developer who in the late 1990s began pursuing a signature project: construction of a towering condominium, retail, and hotel project called Columbus Center. The $800 million project would have united the Back Bay and South End neighborhoods over the Massachusetts Turnpike with a series of large buildings. Ultimately, the project stalled in 2007 due to financial difficulties.


DiSantis portrayed Winn as a shrewd businessman who tried to get taxpayer money for Columbus Center by orchestrating the scheme to curry support from politicians who had the ability to help his project. He said that Winn bundled together large numbers of contributions for specific politicians and personally delivered them to emphasize that he was the source of the money.

“The scope and duration of Winn’s conduct show that it was not aberrant behavior,’’ DiSantis wrote. “The long list of illegal contributions laid out in charts attached to this memorandum does not represent a momentary lapse in judgment or a one-off crime; rather it shows a consistent pattern of conduct by someone involved in significant political giving.’’

The documents attached to the memorandum show Winn’s contributions to politicians, including former Governor Mitt Romney, US Senator John Kerry, US Representatives Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, and Edward Markey, and disgraced state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, a major Columbus Center supporter who is serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence on unrelated bribery charges.

Over his eight years of illegal giving, Winn was successful in getting commitments for more than $60 million in state and federal assistance for Columbus Center, although the money was never spent because of the project’s collapse.


In contrast, Winn’s lawyers described him as small-time donor to a political system that now allows people to give millions of dollars to political action committees that support political candidates.

They said that he has been a leading provider of affordable housing in Boston and around the country, and that he also donated considerable sums to charity.

“Viewed next to Mr. Winn’s many positive contributions, the offenses to which he plead guilty represent, at worst, blips of poor judgment by an otherwise honorable and honest individual,’’ wrote his lawyers.