Guilty plea in scheme to steal more than $1M in donations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Samuel K. Pate Jr.'s job was to make sure donations were deposited into the accounts of his conservative clients - including campaign funds for now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republican Sen. David Vitter. Instead, his bookkeeping scheme diverted more than $1 million into his own accounts to pay for a lavish lifestyle of vacation homes, luxury vehicles and jewelry, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Pate pleaded guilty on Monday to three counts of mail fraud in federal court in Louisville, Kentucky. Prosecutors said the scheme ran from early 2008 through November 2014 and netted him more than $1.1 million.

More than half of the amount was taken from campaign funds for McConnell and Vitter, Republicans from Kentucky and Louisiana, respectively.

"This is really a case of embezzlement," U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. told reporters after the court hearing. "It's simply theft. These were donations from donors all over the United States that were trying to participate in the political process, and his fraud disrupted and frustrated those efforts."

The scheme began unraveling after a McConnell donor didn't receive a customary thank you note from the senator's campaign, Kuhn said. He added that the 52-year-old defendant from Forest, Virginia, stole from 18 clients, including political campaigns, political action committees and non-profit groups.

In court, Pate showed no emotion while answering a series of questions from U.S. District Judge Greg N. Stivers before entering his guilty plea.

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