Arthur Winn, prominent Boston developer, to plead guilty to illegal campaign donation scheme

A major Boston developer is facing a $200,000 fine as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors to bring an end to an investigation into illegal campaign donations he and one of his companies made to major Massachusetts political figures, according to court records.

Arthur Winn, 72, of Brookline is expected in US District Court in the near future to formally admit his guilt to charges that he secretly funneled thousands of dollars in donations to the campaigns of US Representatives Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch, according to a plea agreement filed in court. There is no allegation of wrongdoing by Capuano and Lynch.

Court documents indicate he also improperly funneled thousands more to other candidates from both major parties at all levels of the political system, including Governor Deval Patrick, former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, US Senator John Kerry, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and candidates for an array of state and municipal offices. None was charged with wrongdoing.

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One of Winn’s real estate companies is also pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and offered to pay $1.5 million in penalties. Prosecutors said Winn tried to use the donations to win public funding for his massive Columbus Center development project in Boston

Although Winn has agreed to plead guilty, federal prosecutors and Winn’s attorneys have not agreed on the ultimate disposition. Winn’s sentence will ultimately be decided by the judge who is assigned to hear the case, according to records.

Under the agreement, Winn will admit that he personally steered $3,500 to Lynch and $500 to Capuano in 2006 and 2007, in violation of federal campaign finance laws. Both are misdemeanors.

However, the court papers also said that Winn will also acknowledge illegally reimbursing people who made an additional set of donations, worth tens of thousands of dollars, to state candidates.

According to US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office, Winn and his company funneled a total of $150,000 in illegal donations through the scheme that began in 2002 and lasted into 2009.

In a statement announcing the charges, Ortiz said that Winn’s company, Winn Columbus Center Limited Partnership, has agreed to pay $1.5 million in fines to settle criminal charges against that entity.

“Using strawmen and conduits to conceal the true source of campaign funds erodes the public’s confidence in our electoral system,’’ Ortiz said in a statement. “The conduct alleged today, which includes conduit contributions that were ultimately reimbursed using funds from publically-subsidized [sic] housing communities, demonstrates the importance of open and honest campaign funding and record keeping.”

An attorney for Winn, Robert Popeo, portrayed Winn as ignorant of campaign finance laws that would have allowed him to legally give much more money to his favored politicians.

“It emphasizes the hypocrisy of our system when individuals can legally give $4 million to $5 million or more and Arthur Winn gets charged with criminal violations ... for giving reimbursements to his family member and close friends,” Popeo said. “That’s hypocrisy.”

He added: “Arthur did not know the severity [of his actions] or the fact that what he was doing could have just as easily been accomplished legally had he known someone who knew how to navigate the system.”

Winn convinced employees and business contacts to make the donations, and then would secretly reimburse them in violation of federal campaign finance laws, prosecutors said in a criminal information filed in court.

One Winn beneficiary was former Democratic state senator Dianne Wilkerson, who was convicted this year for accepting bribes from a cooperating witness for the FBI.

Winn is also accused of directing former employee Martin Raffol to solicit donations. Raffol has pleaded guilty to the scheme to conceal the true source of the campaign donations and to witness tampering. His sentencing has twice been delayed.