Crime

Feds arrest former Massachusetts congressional candidate for allegedly using campaign funds to pay hotel debts

“We believe Mr. Das engineered this calculated scheme to show he was a viable candidate for office, at the expense of voters and the election process."

Beej Das, right, talks to voters at the ISSO Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Lowell in 2018. Erin Clark / The Boston Globe

In his 2018 concession speech, former Massachusetts congressional candidate Abhijit “Beej” Das said that his bid to succeed former Rep. Niki Tsongas came at “incredible cost, both personally, professionally,” and “for our company.”

But according to federal prosecutors, his troubled hotel company was also a significant — and illegal — drain on Das’s campaign.

In a press release Tuesday, the U.S. attorney’s office for Massachusetts announced that they had arrested Das, a North Andover resident and Democratic primary candidate in the open 2018 3rd District race, for soliciting illegally excessive campaign donations from friends and family, dipping into his campaign account to pay for business debts, and covering it up with falsified campaign finance reports to the Federal Elections Commission.

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Ramsey E. Covington, a Boston-based criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service, called the alleged actions a “flagrant violation” of campaign finance law and a “blatant betrayal of the public trust.”

Das — who finished seventh in the Democratic primary narrowly won by Rep. Lori Trahan — faces six charges: one count of accepting excessive campaign contributions, one count of conduit contributions, one count of conversion of campaign funds, one count of engaging in a scheme to falsify, conceal, and cover up material facts, and two counts of making a false statement. 

Das pled not guilty to the charges during an appearance Tuesday afternoon before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Jennifer C. Boal. And his lawyer, Neil Faigel, urged the public against jumping to conclusion in the case “based solely upon the allegations.”

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“Time and again, cases that have a political component are inherently complicated,” Faigel told Boston.com in an email. “At this time, and at this juncture, it would be premature to comment further.”

According to the indictment, Das — who faced an uphill climb in the crowded 2018 race — first devised the scheme in December 2017 to ask friends and associates for personal loans that were over the then-$2,700 limit on individual campaign donations. During that month, he allegedly emailed a contributor that reaching his goal of raising $450,000 by the end of the year might require “some engineering.”

Das was well short of reaching that goal.

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According to FEC reports, he received just over $150,000 in donations between the time he announced his candidacy in October 2017 and the end of the year. And according to the indictment, the actual amount of money in the Das campaign’s bank account in mid-December was only about $10,000.

Filings show that Das made four large personal loans totaling just shy of $280,000 in the final days of December. According to the indictment, at least $125,000 of that money came in the form of three illegally large campaign donations from three friends, which were disguised as loans to a family member in order to circumvent FEC reporting requirements and contribution limits.

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Then, according to the indictment, Das withdrew approximately $314,500 from his campaign account between January and March 2018 and used at least $267,000 of these funds to pay for business debts unrelated to his campaign.

Das, who is also a constitutional lawyer, had for several years been operating a financially struggling hotel business that included the Stonehedge Hotel and Spa in Tyngsborough, the Daniel Hotel in Brunswick, Maine, and a 108-foot yacht named “Troca One.”

According to the indictment, he used the money to pay hotel vendors, expenses related to the yacht, and overdue real estate tax bills.

In order to hide that the funds weren’t going straight to his business, Das allegedly broke up the transfers into multiple steps.

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According to the indictment, Das first used the funds to purchase a bank check addressed to himself, which he then deposited into a hotel account. And beginning in February, he allegedly directed bank tellers to break up the transfers into two parts: a cash withdrawal from the Das campaign account, followed by an immediate deposit into one of his hotel accounts.

Prosecutors say that, in his business records, Das reported the money from his campaign account as short-term personal loans. But in campaign finance reports, they were allegedly not disclosed at all.

That summer, Das reported having $440,000 in his campaign account to spend as the primary race entered its final months. But according the indictment Tuesday, the actual amount was less than $5,000.

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With the exception of a $5,000 loan in 2019, prosecutors say Das never refunded any of the money he withdrew for businesses.

“We believe Mr. Das engineered this calculated scheme to show he was a viable candidate for office, at the expense of voters and the election process,” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, said.

Each of the charges Das now faces carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines of up to $250,000.

Despite the concealed withdrawals to help his business, Das’s businesses continued to owe back taxes after the race. His hotel in Tyngsborough ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2020, and the hotel in Maine was sold later that year. Das’s former campaign manager also complained he was owed thousands in unpaid wages.

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According to an online posting, the Troca One — which boasts four bedroms and satellite TV — is also for sale.

Das, who finished the 2018 race deriding other candidates for playing “dirty,” conceded the race after finishing with 1.7 percent of the Sept. 4 primary vote.

“It’s been an education,” he said at the time. “As mom and dad and I say all the time, these educational lessons are expensive. This one was expensive.”

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