Just weeks away from an election to replace disgraced former Mayor Bob Filner, the San Diego political scene has had to make room for a breaking scandal involving foreign money and local lawmakers.
A federal complaint (pdf) unveiled Tuesday charged three men with conspiring to steer $500,000 in illegal contributions from a Mexican tycoon to various San Diego political campaigns. Among them: the 2012 campaign for mayor, a 2012 congressional campaign and the 2014 mayoral runoff. The complaint said there was a promise that another “mill” in contributions would be forthcoming.
The businessman was not named in federal documents, but U-T San Diego said enough details were included to identify him as Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, who owns a home in Coronado. Azano has been doing legal and political battle with Sempra Energy, parent of both San Diego Gas & Electric and Sempra LNG, for years over its operation of a $1 billion natural gas plant in Baja California.
It is a violation of federal law for foreign nationals to contribute to U.S. political campaigns.
The three men named in the complaint by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California are: retired San Diego Police Officer Ernesto Encinas, political lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes and Ravneet Singh, the owner of a Washington, D.C. election services business. A fourth man instrumental in spreading the largess, named only as “the Straw Donor,” is believed to be Marc Chase, co-owner of Symbolic Motor Car Company in La Jolla.
Recipients of the money were not named in the complaints, but political observers were quick to zero in on the 2012 campaigns of Filner, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. The D.A. quickly returned money ($1,400) along with three others: Acting Mayor Todd Gloria ($500); congressional candidate Carl DeMaio ($500); and Representative Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) ($3,500).
Filner resigned last August under a hail of sexual harassment charges and is serving a 90-day in-home sentence after pleading guilty to a felony and two misdemeanors for his treatment of women.
None of the candidates have been accused of knowingly accepting illegal funds.
According to the complaint, Encinas, now the owner of a private security and consulting business in San Diego, oversaw protection of Azano and wanted the next mayor to fire the police chief and hire someone of his boss’ choosing.
He allegedly joined with Singh to distribute money between 2011 and 2013, using shell companies to shield its origin.
Singh is the founder and CEO of ElectionMall Technologies, Inc., which specializes in utilizing technology and a heavy digital presence in a world “where every day is a campaign.” The complaint said he offered $300,000 worth of “in-kind” social media service contributions to political campaigns. He was arrested by the FBI on January 17.
The mayoral election between City Council members David Alvarez, a Democrat, and Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, will be held on February 11.