WASHINGTON – Houma businessman Arlen “Benny” Cenac Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday to illegally donating too much money to Louisiana’s U.S. senators and lying about it.
Cenac, 57, who is the president of a towing company, faces a potential maximum penalty of five years in federal prison after officially pleading guilty to making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission.
His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 5 before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.
Cenac obtained cashier’s checks using his personal and corporate funds in names of other people he knew professionally or personally without their permission, according to plea documents. He then submitted the checks as campaign contributions to U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., causing their campaigns to submit false information regarding the source and the amount of the contributions to the FEC.
The senators and their campaigns were not implicated in any wrongdoing.
The bill of information claims Cenac donated monies on Feb. 16, 2008, and on May 24, 2008.
Cenac in August agreed to a $170,000 settlement with the FEC for donating $15,000 to Vitter’s campaign in the name of others in February 2008 and $25,300 to Landrieu’s campaign in the name of others in May 2008.
Federal law limits a person to donating a total of $4,600 to a candidate for federal office in primary and general elections.
The checks attracted suspicion because they were received as “sequentially numbered checks from the same bank,” according to the FEC.
Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and New Orleans-based U.S. Attorney Dana Boente announced the guilty plea on Wednesday.
“Mr. Cenac’s crime undermined the cornerstones of campaign finance laws, and his conviction demonstrates our resolve to hold accountable anyone who corrupts our electoral process,” Raman said in the announcement.
Boente called the conviction a “warning to people who attempt to hide their identity and make contributions in excess of legal limits.”
As for the donations, Vitter’s press office has said the senator donated the $15,000 to charity — $7,500 to Angels Place and $7,500 to the Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans.
Landrieu turned the money over to the U.S. Treasury as soon as it was noticed that the contributions were problematic, according to her campaign.