David Duke — a one-time Ku Klux Klan leader, Republican state legislator and gubernatorial candidate in Louisiana — pleaded guilty yesterday to mail fraud and tax charges, according to news reports.
Duke faces up to 15 months in prison and $10,000 in fines at his sentencing March 19. He is free on $10,000 bail.
The mail fraud involved letters Duke sent to supporters from 1993 to 1999 urging them to give him money because he had financial problems and was in danger of losing his home. Duke used the money for personal investments, gambling trips and stock investments, U.S. District Attorney Jim Letton said. He said the amount collected through the scheme was “in the six-figure area.”
“He was lying and exaggerating, ultimately, about his allegedly dire financial situation,” Letton told reporters yesterday. “Duke admitted in court this morning that he actually used the larger portion of the money he solicited for casino gaming.”
The agreement does not call for restitution. Letton said contributions were as small as $5, and there were so many of them that returning the money would be difficult.
Duke had just started a speaking tour in Russia in January 2000 when federal agents raided his home in Mandeville, LA, because of information that he had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters under false pretenses.
After the raid, Duke posted a message on his Web site saying he was the victim of a racially motivated attempt to silence him.
“This probe is nothing more than a political assassination on the part of government officials who are seeking to silence my voice for our European heritage and rights,” he said.
Duke also pleaded guilty to filing a false 1998 tax return in which he claimed to make only $18,831 when he really made more than $65,000.
Duke won a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1988 and finished second in a 1990 race for the U.S. Senate and a 1991 race for Louisiana governor. He placed third in a 1999 congressional race in the New Orleans area.
Yesterday's pleas to the two felony charges disqualify Duke from running for public office.