SAN DIEGO -- A retired San Diego police officer and the owner of a Washington, D.C.-based election services business have been charged with conspiring to funnel more than $500,000 of illegal contributions from a Mexican businessman into San Diego campaigns, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Ravneet Singh, 41, owner of ElectionMall Inc., and retired police detective Ernesto Encinas, 57, conspired to funnel the money into independent committees supporting candidates in the mayoral elections of 2012 and 2013, among other elections, according to the complaint.
The names of the candidates are not included in the complaint but two of them, from details in the complaint, appear to be ex-Mayor Bob Filner and Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis.
The complaint contains no assertion that the candidates knew of the contributions to the independent committees or that any candidate met with Encinas, who acted as the go-between the businessman and the committees.
The complaint notes that during the 2012 mayoral primary, “a local news source published an article noting the Foreign National’s large expenditures and implicitly questioning whether he was eligible to donate. The article noted that the Foreign National was a Mexican citizen.”
In May 2012, just before the mayoral primary election, the San Diego City Beat weekly newspaper reported that a political action committee supporting Dumanis for mayor had received at least $100,000 from an aviation firm controlled by Susumo Azano, described as a Mexican national living in Coronado.
Azano has “bankrolled lawsuits in a land dispute against Sempra Energy in Mexico,” the newspaper reported.
In the complaint, one of the illegal contributions was $100,000 for social media services. Another contribution of $100,000 was made by the same “Foreign National” to the same committee, the complaint alleges.
Dumanis was eliminated in the June 2012 mayoral primary. Then-Rep. Bob Filner was elected mayor in the runoff that fall.
Disclosure records show that Filner received a contribution from Encinas during the 2012 election. Much larger amounts of money were given to independent committees to help Filner, the complaint suggests.
Dumanis is currently running for her fourth term as district attorney.
Late Tuesday night, a campaign consultant for Dumanis issued a statement that the case “appears to be related to contributions to an independent expenditure committee and not our campaign.
“Our campaign followed the law and did not coordinate with this independent committee,” the statement said.
Bob Brewer, a former Los Angeles prosecutor in private practice in San Diego for the past 20 years and now running for district attorney, said that Dumanis “owes the public a full accounting of all of her connections to the defendants.
“The obvious question is why the ‘Foreign National’ cited in the complaint was so keen on illegally funneling cash to her mayoral campaign,” Brewer said. “Like everyone else in San Diego, we await her explanation,”
Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to any American political campaign.
Singh and Encinas used a series of schemes, including shell companies and so-called straw donors, according to the complaint.
After Filner resigned in August, the City Council scheduled a special election for November.
According to the complaint, Encinas then approached a would-be candidate’s representative with an offer: masked contributions from the Mexican businessman, in exchange for the candidate, if elected, firing Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and letting Encinas pick his successor.
“Encinas further stated that this was the one ‘guarantee’ he sought from Candidate 4 in exchange for the Foreign National’s campaign money,” according to the complaint.
By the time the offer was allegedly made, the FBI was following Encinas, and political operatives who met with him were working as confidential informants. No deal was struck.
Encinas, after retiring from the Police Department, opened a business offering security services, including to bars and downtown businesses. He also provided security to the unnamed Mexican businessman.
Along with Singh and Encinas, Singh’s company was also charged. The complaint also lists unspecified “others” as being involved in the scheme.