Here’s how feds say former House candidate Abhijit Das paid off debts on yacht, Massachusetts hotel business with illegal political donations
At the end of 2017, Abhijit Das was running two hotels and a luxury yacht as well as a long-shot bid for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Massachusetts.
At the time, Das marketed himself to voters in the 3rd Congressional District of the state as a Democrat who thought and acted independently, an experienced constitutional lawyer and “an entrepreneur at heart,” the owner of an innovative hotel company made of up more than 100 full-time staff members, according to his campaign’s website, “Das for Congress.”
However, behind the scenes, the one-time congressional candidate’s finances told a different story, federal prosecutors asserted.
In an announcement about Das’s arrest Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office detailed its allegations against the former candidate, namely how he tailored a scheme to illegally obtain political donations, tried to conceal those illicit contributions and than used hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money on personal expenses, like his struggling hotel business and yacht.
In connection with his alleged plan to use the political donations from friends and families to pay off debts related to his business, Das was charged with accepting excessive campaign contributions, conduit contributions, conversion of campaign funds, engaging in a scheme to falsify, conceal and cover up material facts and making a false statement, according to law enforcement.
“Today, we arrested Abhijit Das for allegedly soliciting his friends and family for at least $125,000 in illegal campaign contributions, repeatedly dipping into his campaign coffers to pay outstanding debts related to his hotel business and falsifying campaign finance reports to try and cover his tracks,” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Bonavolonta went on to say that federal authorities believe Das, a 47-year-old North Andover man, engineered the “calculated” scheme to show he was a viable candidate for office, “at the expense of voters and the election process.”
“The FBI will continue to investigate allegations of campaign finance abuse like these to ensure openness and fairness in our elections so that everyone’s interests are protected,” he said.
The man’s father, Mukti Das, said the accusations against his son are wrong.
“The truth will come. The truth will win,” Mukti Das told MassLive on Tuesday.
Differing with Mukti Das’s claim about his son’s innocence is an indictment unsealed earlier this month that charged Abhijit Das with violating the Federal Election Campaign Act and making false financials statements during the 2017 to 2018 campaign cycle, when he was running for the congressional seat that U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan eventually won.
At the time, Das, who is also known as “Beej,” was a licensed Massachusetts attorney and a resident of North Andover and Lowell. Between August 2014 and December 2019, he operated what the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a “financially struggling” hotel business.
According to officials, the entities that made up his business were: the Stonehedge Hotel & Spa in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts; the Daniel hotel in Brunswick, Maine, which has since closed; and a 108-foot yacht called the “Troca One,” a 2002 Viking Sport Cruiser built in 2002 that was previously listed for sale at $2.39 million.
In late September 2017, Das announced his candidacy for Congress at his Tyngsboro hotel. Das-for-Congress (DFC) was the authorized committee for his campaign that accepted contributions and made expenditures on its behalf, court records detailed.
The same month, he and his campaign chair — a close friend of his, who authorities in the indictment named only as “Person A” — asked the operations director of the Massachusetts and Maine hotels to serve as the treasurer for the campaign, according to the indictment.
The operations director’s role in the campaign would be one in title only, with him serving mainly as a figurehead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Das directed the hotel staff member to sign up for an online FEC account. However, he wasn’t “involved in the accounting of any campaign contributions or expenditures and did not prepare or file any reports with the FEC.” Instead, he primarily spent his time managing Das’s two hotels.
DFC soon hired “The Lobbying Firm,” a Boston-based strategic communications group, to manage the campaign from November 2017 through May 2018. An employee at the firm, who was named in the indictment only as the “Fin-D,” was assigned to work as the finance director for the campaign and helped prepare its 2017 yearend and 2018 Quarter 1 reports to send to the FEC, documents that, prosecutors claimed, were falsified by Das.
On Oct. 8, 2017, Das formally registered with the FEC as a candidate, naming his hotels’ operations directors as the treasurer, the DFC as the principal campaign committee and the Lowell Five Savings Bank in Lowell as the bank at which the campaign held its financial account, according to the indictment.
The finances of these campaign bank accounts are made publicly available, the indictment explained, and they help voters make informed decisions by providing a record of the identity of the campaign’s individual donors, total contributions and expenditures of funds.
Eleven days after registering with the FEC, authorities said, Das opened the campaign’s bank account at the Lowell Five. The two signatories were him and the hotels’ operations director.
The first significant deadline for Das’s House bid was Dec. 31, 2017. By Jan. 31, 2018, each congressional campaign would be required to file its yearend report with the FEC, disclosing for the first time in the race the total amount of funds each campaign had raised through the end of 2017, according to court records.
“The Dec. 31, 2017 deadline was important because the total amount of cash-on-hand by that date was an early public indicator of a candidate’s viability,” the indictment noted.
By the end of December 2017, though, Das and his campaign were “significantly behind” their fundraising goal of reaching $450,000 by Dec. 31. In fact, by the middle of the month, the total amount of funds on deposit in the campaign’s account was only around $10,000, according to prosecutors.
“To overcome this fundraising deficit, Das devised a scheme to solicit personal loans from friends and close associates in excess of the legal limit that Das then contributed to DFC in the form of personal loans,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
To overcome his fundraising hurdles, authorities alleged, Das sought out personal loans from his campaign chair and two other individuals. One of the donors, named “Person B’ in the indictment, was a friend of his, who worked in the hotel industry in Pennsylvania. Das claimed this individual was also the finance chair of his campaign. The third contributor was a friend of Das’s family in California, labeled as “Person C,’ according to authorities.
Das is accused of seeking out loans from Persons A, B and C “for the purpose of funding and supporting his congressional campaign in excess of the FEC contribution limits.”
To circumvent the donation limits and reporting requirements, officials claimed, Das structured the payments as loans to one of his immediate family members, who shared a joint back account with him at Bank of America. Das is accused of then instructing the three donors to transfer the funds to a joint checking account in the family member’s name.
“12/31 is the one and only [test of] financial viability that my campaign will likely face,” authorities alleged Das wrote in an email on Dec. 11, 2017 to Person C in which he asked for that individuals’ financial support.
Roughly two weeks later, that individual, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, wound up donating $5,400 to Das’s campaign, the maximum allowable contribution for both the general and primary congressional elections. According to the indictment, that same day, Person C asked Das over email for wire transfer instructions to give him a $25,000 loan. Around a week later, officials noted, the individual wired over the money to the account in Das’s family member’s name.
From November to December 2017, Das is also accused of asking Person B for a $50,000 loan to support his campaign. Court records detailed how the former candidate told that individual he probably wouldn’t need all of the funds and would only access the money as needed.
In another email on Dec. 17, 2017, authorities said, Das asked for Person B’s support to reach the $450,000 fundraising goal by Dec. 31 and indicated reaching that threshold may need “some engineering.”
Two days later, the indictment explained, Das and his campaign chair spoke with Person B during a conference call about contributing to the campaign. The former candidate is accused of falsely telling the donor in that call that he had confirmed the legality of the $50,000 loan to the campaign with an attorney, according to prosecutors.
“In fact, Das had never retained the services of an election law attorney during the campaign, but instead was acting on his own counsel,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Authorities claimed that when Person B agreed to the loan and asked Das for a written agreement, the former candidate told the individual the funds needed to be transferred to his family member’s account because of “timing” issues and so his campaign could comply with FEC reporting requirements.
Toward the end of December 2017, the indictment said, Das emailed Person B wire transfer instructions, thanked the individual for the loan and wrote that he “appreciate[d] the faith in the endeavor” in supporting his campaign. The same day, officials noted, $50,000 was wired to Das’s family member’s bank account along with a signed copy of the loan agreement from Person B.
Throughout that month, prosecutors alleged, Das sought to persuade another individual, Person A, to loan an addition $50,000 to the campaign to increase its cash-on-hand amount for the end of 2017 reporting deadline.
According to court records, in a series of texts dated Dec. 27, 2017, Das told Person A that his family and Person B had “funded” his campaign. The former candidate is accused of alluding to the fact that he would “aggregate” the loans into “one batch” and execute “the main transfer” to the campaign account by the end of the week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Person A wired the money over a day later, authorities explained, and that same day, the collective $125,000 in loan payments from all three individuals, along with another roughly $50,000 in funds from members of Das’s family, were transferred between bank accounts, with a total of $170,000 eventually reaching the campaign’s account.
Prosecutions alleged the misrepresentation of Das’s campaign’s funds to the general public started in the middle of January 2018. At that time, officials said, the former candidate represented to his political staff, potential donors and the public that DFC had raised roughly $425,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017 and had around $550,000 in cash-on-hand. However, the cash-on-hand amount at the time was less than $380,000, law enforcement noted.
Later, in an email to the finance director from The Lobbying Firm dated Jan. 30, 2018, Das is accused of lying that the separate transfers of $48,000, $54,000 and $170,000 made the prior month to his campaign’s account were “cash loans from Abhijit Das to Beej Das for Congress,” according to the indictment.
Das’s alleged wrongdoing then caused his campaign to falsely assert in its 2017 yearend report that the former candidate had loaned DFC nearly $280,000 in his own personal funds, when in fact, authorities asserted, $125,000 of that money was funded by the fraudulent campaign contributions from the three individuals in December 2017.
In the months that followed, authorities said, Das began to use the illegal campaign contributions to pay off his own personal expenses, acting in a way that flew in the face of strict federal rules that govern political donations so they aren’t used as “personal slush funds.”
“Today’s indictment alleging campaign finance violations for the personal benefit of the defendant, represent a flagrant violation of those laws and blatant betrayal of the public trust,” said Ramsey E. Covington, acting special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division Boston Field Office.
Between Jan. 26 and May 19, 2018, Das is accused of withdrawing roughly $314,500 from the campaign’s account, using at least $267,000 to pay outstanding debts related to his struggling hotel business, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Among other expenses, the funds that Das withdrew from the DFC account were used to pay hotel vendors, expenses related to the Troca One yacht and real estate taxes unrelated to his congressional campaign,” the indictment detailed.
In transferring the funds from the DFC’s account to his hotel business, authorities said, Das sought to hide the fact that he was paying off personal expenses with funds he had misappropriated from his campaign by portraying the transactions as uncorrelated withdrawals and deposits, rather than direct transfers among accounts.
On multiple occasions, officials claimed, he withdrew funds from DFC’s account, used the money to buy a bank check payable to himself and deposited the funds into an entirely different account. The aim, prosecutors alleged, was to disguise the withdrawal as a generic transaction instead of his conversion of campaign funds for personal use.
On Feb. 19, 2018, Das’s hotels’ operations director, who at the time was serving in the fake role as his campaign’s treasurer, informed the former candidate about an overdue real estate tax bill for his Maine hotel, according to court records.
The indictment alleged that Das told the operations director he would work to get the funds by the following day, but he didn’t say he would be withdrawing the funds from the DFC account.
The next day, Das is accused of withdrawing $35,000 from his political campaign’s account, using the money to buy a check payable to the town of Brunswick for his real estate taxes on the hotel and then giving the check to the operations director, according to court records.
By April 15, 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, Das had caused his campaign to file an incorrect FEC quarterly report, claiming that at the end of the first quarter of 2018, DFC had nearly $400,000 cash-on-hand. In fact, the campaign had close $300,000 less than that amount in cash-on-hand.
“Mr. Das allegedly solicited illegal campaign donations, used the money for his own business expenses and debts and then attempted to conceal his actions,” acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Nathaniel R. Mendells said. “We are committed to prosecuting this kind of criminal conduct, because doing so protects the election process and vindicates every voter’s right to law-abiding campaigns and transparent elections.”
MassLive reporter Steph Solis contributed to this report.