By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza avoided prison on Tuesday when a U.S. judge sentenced him to serve eight months in a community confinement center after he pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law.
D'Souza, 53, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan to live in a center, which would allow him to leave during non-residential hours for employment, for the first eight months of a five-year probationary period.
Berman also ordered D'Souza to perform one day of community service a week during probation, undergo weekly therapy and pay a $30,000 fine.
D'Souza, a frequent critic of U.S. President Barack Obama, admitted in May to illegally reimbursing two "straw donors" who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a Republican he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.
"It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea," D'Souza told Berman before being sentenced. "I regret breaking the law."
Prosecutors had sought a 10-to 16-month prison sentence, rejecting defense arguments that D'Souza was "ashamed and contrite" about his crime and deserved probation with community service.
They cited statements D'Souza made in media interviews after his guilty plea, where he discussed being "selectively" targeted for prosecution.
Berman appeared to accept the prosecutors' position, playing a video in which D'Souza talked about selective prosecution - an effort at "spin," the judge said.
"I'm not sure, Mr. D'Souza, that you get it," Berman said before announcing the sentence. "And it is still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case."
The case has prompted criticism among some conservatives who accused the government of selectively prosecuting D'Souza because of his political views. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office brought the case, is an Obama appointee.
Despite comments early in the hearing, Berman ultimately decided against prison, instead ordering community confinement. Benjamin Brafman, D'Souza's lawyer, had argued no defendant in a case like D'Souza's had previously been sent to prison.
"I'm just relieved and want to thank the judge for imposing a fair sentence," D'Souza said after Tuesday's hearing.
The Indian-born D'Souza wrote the 2010 bestseller "The Roots of Obama's Rage" and co-directed a 2012 film, "2016: Obama's America," which painted a bleak picture of the nation's future if the Democratic president was reelected.
Prosecutors said D'Souza asked two friends and their spouses to contribute $10,000 each to Long's campaign and then reimbursed them.
Campaign finance regulations at the time limited individual donations to $5,000 maximum during an election cycle.
One friend was Denise Joseph, who was engaged to D'Souza while he was still married to another woman.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement that "like many others before him, of all political stripes, he has had to answer for this crime - here with a felony conviction."
The case is U.S. v. D'Souza, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00034.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish and Andrew Hay)