Clifford Chen and Lawrence Lum Kee, formerly of Navatek LLC, were indicted along with their boss, Martin Kao, after making illegal donations to a senator’s reelection efforts.

WASHINGTON — Breaking federal election law to funnel thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins might only bring probation for two former business executives from Hawaii.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Washington filed sentencing memorandums recommending leniency for Clifford Chen and Lawrence Lum Kee, who pleaded guilty in April for making illegal straw donations to Collins’ 2020 campaign while working for the defense contracting firm Navatek LLC.

In the memos — which were nearly identical — prosecutors said neither man deserves to go to prison because the conduct they pleaded guilty to was “an aberration in what was otherwise a consistent history of being a law-abiding citizen.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, center, poses for a photo with Martin Kao, second from left, during an August 2019 celebration of an $8 million contract award for his company Navatek LLC. (U.S. Sen. Susan Collins/2019 photo)

Chen and Lum Kee were indicted in 2022 along with their former boss, Martin Kao, who in addition to making straw donations was charged with creating a shell company to send $150,000 to a pro-Collins super PAC in violation of federal campaign law. 

Kao also pleaded guilty in the case, but prosecutors have yet to file paperwork outlining what punishment they deem appropriate for him. 

The criminal charges came after a Civil Beat investigation in 2020 outlined the many political donations Kao, Lum Kee, Chen and their family members had made to Collins 2020 reelection efforts, including the money that was filtered through a shell company called the Society of Young Women Scientists and Engineers.

According to the sentencing memos, Chen and Lum Kee used Navatek money to reimburse family members for donations they made to Collins’ campaign after they had maxed out their contributions to her, which is a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. 

The reason for the donations, prosecutors said, was to curry favor with Collins, a GOP member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

While Collins had talked of securing federal money for an $8 million contract won by Navatek, the prosecutors said they found no evidence that Chen and Lum Kee’s illegal contributions “had any material effect” on Navatek’s ability to win federal contracts. 

The prosecutors said sentencing leniency is warranted because Chen and Lum Kee faced “serious collateral consequences” due to their convictions. 

Both men lost their jobs, which were the source of “significant income,” and that loss alone “serves as adequate deterrence” to them as well as to other federal contractors and donors that the government “will criminally prosecute those who violate their campaign finance laws.”

Chen and Lum Kee’s sentence will ultimately be decided by U.S District Court Judge Carl Nichols, who is the presiding judge in the case.

Their sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 16. 

Kao, meanwhile, will be sentenced separately. In addition to illegal campaign contributions, Kao has pleaded guilty in a separate case in which he defrauded a pandemic relief aid program out of millions of dollars. 

He also faces charges in another case involving alleged mortgage fraud. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.

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