‘Dangerous political operative’ gets 2 years in prison

A nationally prominent political operative whose abrasive, anything-to-win style frequently landed him in trouble in Knoxville a decade ago is going to prison for two years for breaking federal campaign laws, reports Michael Collins.

Tyler Harber, who worked as an aide to former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale but now lives in northern Virginia, was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in Alexandria, Va.

“I’m guilty — I knew it was wrong when I did it,” Harber told the judge shortly before he was sentenced.

Harber said he let his competitive nature get the best of him but that he was driven not by power but by his desire to win a political race.

Harber said he also was motivated in part because he had seen other political operatives commit the same offenses without being caught and prosecuted.

“I didn’t think clearly,” he said.

Harber, 34, pleaded guilty in February to illegally coordinating campaign spending between a political-action committee he had helped create and a Virginia congressional campaign he was managing in 2012. He also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents investigating his activities.

“The defendant’s criminal conduct was not borne of ignorance, naiveté or mistake,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark D. Lytle wrote in a pre-sentencing memo filed with the court. “Rather, the conduct engaged in here was undertaken by an intelligent and careful man with significant experience in politics and campaign finance. He knew exactly what he was doing and exactly the best way to conceal it from his party and from law enforcement.”

“He is, in short,” Lytle said, “the most dangerous sort of political operative by virtue of his knowledge and experience.”