A Pakistani immigrant who hosted fundraisers in Southern California for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is being sought by the FBI on charges that he funneled illegal contributions to Clinton’s political action committee and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s 2004 reelection campaign.
Authorities say Northridge businessman Abdul Rehman Jinnah, 56, fled the country after an indictment accused him of engineering more than $50,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic committees. A business associate charged as a co-conspirator has entered a guilty plea and is scheduled to be sentenced in Los Angeles next week.
A federal law enforcement source said prosecutors had not dealt with the political committees in conducting their investigation and had no evidence that the committees knew the contributions were illegal.
Officials for both committees said they were unaware of the investigation or indictments until they were contacted by The Times, and said they would not keep the donations.
The case has transformed Jinnah from a political point man on Pakistani issues, a man often photographed next to foreign dignitaries and U.S. leaders, into a fugitive with his mug shot on the FBI’s “featured fugitives” wanted list.
Jinnah’s profile peaked in 2004 and 2005 as he wooed members of Congress to join a caucus advancing Pakistani concerns and brought Clinton to speak to prominent Pakistani Americans, lauding their homeland’s contributions to the war on terrorism and calling relations with Pakistan beneficial to U.S. interests.
Jinnah and his family donated more than $100,000 to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. Now friends say they believe Jinnah has returned to Pakistan.
Attempts to reach him and his relatives were unsuccessful. A “For Sale” sign stood in his yard on Thursday, and a neighbor said the family had not lived there for months.
Jinnah’s troubles appear to have begun when he attempted to circumvent election laws by reimbursing friends, business contacts and their family members for contributions made in their names, according to court records. Federal statutes set limits on contributions to federal campaigns and political action committees and bar donations made in the names of others.
Authorities say that from June 2004 to February 2005, Jinnah directly or indirectly solicited contributions from more than a dozen “conduits,” reimbursing them with funds from his company, All American Distributing, a seller of cellphone service and accessories.
Authorities said the scheme allowed Jinnah to get around limits then in effect on individual donors of $5,000 per year to PACs and $2,000 per election to candidates, as well as the ban on using corporate money for political donations.
Jinnah’s case has been handled with discretion by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, which recently lost a high-profile case against former Clinton campaign official David Rosen. Rosen was acquitted of charges of filing false reports about a Hollywood fundraiser given for Clinton in 2000.
The indictment of Jinnah, handed down in May without a news release, mentions only the initials of the committees that received the illegal donations, referring to them as “HP” and “FB.” However, the charging document filed against Stuart Schoenburg, who authorities say is a co-conspirator, identifies one of the committees as HillPac, the leadership committee Clinton formed after her first Senate campaign and which she still uses.
Though Clinton cannot use HillPac to fund her presidential campaign directly, it has allowed her to donate to Democratic candidates and organizations, as well as to pay some political staff and travel expenses.
The Times was able to identify donations to Boxer’s campaign by cross-referencing dates and contributors’ initials listed in the indictment with campaign finance records. The “FB” in the indictment stood for “Friends of Barbara Boxer.”
According to the indictment, Jinnah arranged $30,000 in donations to HillPac by having Schoenburg, a Tarzana television producer, approach family members and others to act as straw donors.
Schoenburg and five others contributed $5,000 apiece. Jinnah later reimbursed them with funds from his corporation, prosecutors say. In one instance, authorities allege, Jinnah and Schoenburg agreed to write “production” in a reimbursement check’s memo line, falsely indicating it was payment for production services.
“The campaign clearly had no knowledge of these activities,” said Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Clinton.
He said HillPac would not keep the contributions cited in the indictment, as well as others from Jinnah and his family.
The indictment says Jinnah also found 14 straw donors to give $28,000 to the 2004 reelection campaign of Boxer (D-Calif.). Among the contributors were five employees of Jinnah’s company, Schoenburg and several members of Schoenburg’s family, records show.
Schoenburg, 76, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of conspiracy in July. Contacted this week, he said he would not comment on the case. “My attorney told me not to talk to you,” he said. His sentencing is scheduled for Monday, but his attorney said it was likely to be postponed.
Rose Kapolczynski, a consultant who ran Boxer’s 2004 campaign, said no one on Boxer’s staff knew of Jinnah’s indictment or the illegal contributions.
“We were very surprised,” she said, adding that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department had requested information from the campaign for the case.
Jinnah hosted or co-hosted two fundraisers for Boxer, she acknowledged.
In addition to the donations cited in the indictment, Boxer will also give away $8,000 contributed by Jinnah and his relatives, either to charity or the U.S. Treasury, Kapolczynski said.
Pakistani Americans are relatively new players in U.S. politics, not nearly as organized or affluent as Indian Americans, who often are on the opposite side of the same international issues.
In early 2000, a controversy erupted when a group of Pakistani Americans hosted a $50,000 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton as President Clinton was deciding whether to visit Pakistan on a Southeast Asia trip. The Clintons denied the contributions swayed the decision to make the stop.
Later that year, Jinnah hosted a luncheon fundraiser for then-First Lady Clinton at his house, an event depicted in a photo posted on the website Pakistanlink.com. Jinnah hosted a second fundraiser for Clinton in October 2004.
That year, he also helped form the Pakistani American Leadership Center, which describes itself as a coalition of Pakistani Americans seeking to further U.S.-Pakistan ties. It has helped persuade more than 70 House members to join the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.
The group was particularly jubilant when Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), who had previously sponsored a bill targeting Pakistan for sanctions related to its nuclear program, agreed to become a member.
Jinnah met with Berman and then issued a statement welcoming the congressman to “a new and hopefully long-term relationship with the Pakistani American community.”
Jinnah has been substantially less active in the last year, however. A spokesman for the leadership center said Jinnah had not attended group events since mid-2005 and had not paid his board dues for the year.
Jinnah, who is married with at least two children, has owned a string of businesses in Southern California since at least 1990, including frozen yogurt shops as well as cellphone-related enterprises. As a legal permanent resident, though not a U.S. citizen, he can make campaign contributions here.
In September, after his indictment, Jinnah put his latest company -- Advanced Communication Technology Inc., which did business as All American Distributing -- into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Most cases involving issues of campaign finance errors or improprieties are handled civilly by the Federal Election Commission, rather than criminally by the Justice Department. Spokesman Thom Mrozek said he could not comment on how the U.S. attorney’s office came to investigate Jinnah.
Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein and researchers Maloy Moore and Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.