LOS ANGELES – Sen. Hillary Clinton's (search) former national finance director never knew the total cost of a 2000 Hollywood fundraising gala, his attorney said Thursday in opening statements at his federal trial over whether campaign contributions were illegally concealed.
Defense lawyer Paul Sandler said the event's expenses were hidden from David F. Rosen (search) by its organizers, Peter F. Paul and Aaron Tonken.
Federal prosecutors allege Rosen panicked when costs for the celebrity-studded event rose, and they say he lied to the government to conceal it.
Rosen has pleaded not guilty to three counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission (search), which oversees campaign contributions. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sandler said Thursday that Rosen didn't gain anything by underreporting the cost to the FEC, and Clinton's Senate campaign didn't benefit.
"David Rosen's responsibility was not to be Sherlock Holmes" by investigating expense reports, Sandler said. He suggested that the event's original producer never told Rosen of its mounting costs.
A day earlier, federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg told jurors earlier, however, that it was Rosen's job to raise money for Clinton's campaign and to keep track of how much was spent to raise it.
The event, held at a 112-acre Brentwood estate, attracted such stars as Cher, Diana Ross, John Travolta, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
It was underwritten by Peter Paul, who pleaded guilty in March to unrelated charges of securities fraud. Paul has told the FBI he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Clinton's campaign that were not reported.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Zeidenberg told jurors Rosen deliberately caused campaign finance reports that claimed "in-kind" contributions of $400,000 for the Hollywood gala, when he knew that the value of such contributions of products or services exceeded $1.1 million.
"How are you going to react when you see that you have OK'd $5,000 for Patti LaBelle's hairdresser, or $10,000 worth of Paul Anka CDs given away on a single night?" Zeidenberg said. "David Rosen knew that people would be extremely alarmed and upset at those kinds of expenses."
Under federal election rules, her campaign would have benefited by underreporting the event's cost. The more a gala costs, even if part of the cost is covered by in-kind contributions, the less money a campaign can spend on the election itself.
Sandler told jurors Thursday that the exact cost of the gala still isn't known.