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Prominent L.A. attorney pleads guilty in campaign case

August 4, 2011 |  3:19 pm

Pierce O’Donnell, one of Southern California’s most prominent business litigators who has been mired in criminal allegations involving political donations, pleaded guilty Thursday to two misdemeanor federal charges of making illegal campaign contributions.

In a plea agreement with prosecutors, O’Donnell admitted to soliciting employees of his law firm and at least one relative to make donations of $2,000 each then reimbursing them, thereby masking that he was the source of the money and circumventing contribution limits. The attorney agreed to serve six months in federal prison for the charges of “conduit contributions,” in addition to a $20,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.

The charges stem from contributions to John Edwards’ 2004 presidential bid. In a news release, the U.S. attorney’s office said the campaign is not suspected of having had knowledge of the illicit contributions.

O’Donnell could not immediately be reached for comment.

U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte said in a statement that O’Donnell, who ran for U.S. Congress, should have been “well aware” of federal election laws, but that he “chose to circumvent the laws designed to maintain transparency and shed light on the campaign process.”

O’Donnell, a lead plaintiff’s attorney for flood victims of Hurricane Katrina suing the U.S. government, previously pleaded no contest in state court in 2006 to misdemeanor charges of using a false name in making political contributions in the 2001 mayoral campaign of James K. Hahn. O'Donnell was sentenced to three years’ probation in that case.

Earlier this year, the California State Bar ordered that O’Donnell’s license be suspended for 60 days and that he be placed on probation for two years for the conduct leading to his conviction.

In his federal case, O’Donnell is scheduled to appear for a sentencing hearing on Nov. 7 before U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero.

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