LOS ANGELES – The former national finance director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's (search) Senate campaign was acquitted Friday of lying to the government about a lavish 2000 Hollywood fundraising gala.
David Rosen (search) was charged with two counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission about the cost of the star-studded gala, which attracted such celebrities as Cher, Melissa Etheridge, Toni Braxton, Diana Ross, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
The jury deliberated about six hours before reaching its verdict.
"It was hard for me to hold back tears. My whole family is crying, and my attorney is crying. It was the happiest moment, next to my marriage, in my life," Rosen said.
Clinton was not charged, but Republicans closely monitored the trial, hoping fallout from it might damage the New York Democrat's 2006 re-election bid and scuttle any hopes for a possible presidential campaign in 2008.
Prosecutors said Rosen, 38, panicked over the mounting costs for the fundraiser and lied to conceal its true cost from both the Clinton campaign and the government. They said Clinton was unaware of any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors said he filed a federal campaign finance report to claim "in-kind" contributions of about $400,000, when he knew that actual contributions for the event exceeded $1.1 million.
It is not illegal for campaigns to accept in-kind contributions, such as the use of cars, hotel rooms, and sound systems, but election law requires such items be reported so the public knows who is helping a candidate.
Jury foreman Michael Johnson, 40, said Rosen did not have the "means or clout" to carry out what the government alleged.
"I truly believe that Rosen's role was as a fundraiser," Johnson said. "He said he wasn't an accountant."
Another juror, Angelo Sanders, 29, said Rosen's calm demeanor on the witness stand helped his cause. "I think everyone thinks he got in over his head," Sanders said.
Prosecutors say Rosen was trying to duck federal financing rules so Clinton's campaign would have more money to spend on her 2000 Senate race against Rick Lazio (search).
"We have said from the beginning that, when all the evidence is in, David would be vindicated," said David Kendall, lawyer for the former first lady. "That has come to pass, and Senator Clinton is very happy for David and his family."
The fundraiser took place at a tony, 112-acre private estate, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Zeidenberg told jurors it cost $90,000 just to get the celebrities and their entourages there. Zeidenberg said organizers spent $35,000 more to provide attendees with souvenir director's chairs from the event and another $50,000 to produce CDs that were included in the gift bags.
Rosen testified that he mistakenly thought some in-kind contributions, including the Porsche he used while in Los Angeles to organize the event, were simply gifts.
"If I executed poor judgment in that decision, I made a mistake, but I certainly didn't intend to hide anything," he testified.
Rosen also said he was mainly involved in raising money for the event and left the actual organizing to others.
The event, which netted just $91,000 in "hard money" that could be spent directly to benefit a candidate, was bankrolled by Peter F. Paul, a three-time convicted felon who pleaded guilty in March to separate securities fraud charges.
Defense attorney Paul Sandler told jurors that Paul and another man named Aaron Tonken concealed the true cost of the event from Rosen.
Tonken is serving a 63-month prison sentence for unrelated charges of defrauding charities of hundreds of thousands of dollars.