Lobbyist charged in San Diego campaign scandal

AP News
Posted: Jan 22, 2014 11:28 PM

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A lobbyist was charged in a widening scandal over more than $500,000 that allegedly was funneled illegally from a Mexican businessman to San Diego political campaigns.

Marco Polo Cortes, 44, is accused of working with two other men who were already charged with directing tainted money to San Diego mayoral and federal campaigns in 2012 and 2013. The San Diego lobbyist made an initial court appearance Wednesday on a single count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

The complaint doesn't name the Mexican businessman, saying only that he owns homes in California. It says he is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident, making it illegal for him to contribute to federal, state or local election campaigns.

Cortes' court-appointed attorney Charles Guthrie declined to comment.

The scandal erupted Tuesday when a federal complaint was unsealed against Ravneet Singh, 41, and his Washington-based campaign services firm, ElectionMall Inc., and Ernesto Encinas, 57, described as a retired San Diego police detective who provided security services to the Mexican businessman. A judge set bail at $250,000 for Singh, who was arraigned Tuesday.

Singh's attorney, Jason Ohta, on Wednesday promised a vigorous defense against "unfounded charges."

Singh "has been providing political candidates with cutting edge technology tools for the last 14 years. It is a shame that people who are not involved with elections, or familiar with campaign financing laws would take advantage of the reputation that it has taken him so long to build," Ohta said.

Encinas, who was not in custody, retired from the San Diego Police Department in 2009 as a detective in the vice unit after 31 years with the same employer, said Lt. Kevin Mayer, a department spokesman.

Encinas allegedly demanded that Police Chief William Lansdowne be fired and replaced with someone of his choosing in exchange for the Mexican businessman's financial support for an unnamed candidate in a November 2013 special election to replace Bob Filner, who resigned amid widespread allegations of sexual harassment.

The complaints do not name four politicians who were alleged targets of the businessman's largesse, identifying three as mayoral candidates and one as candidate for federal office. There is no suggestion in the documents that any of them knew the contributions were illegal.

The campaign of San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who finished fourth in a June 2012 mayoral primary, "followed the law and did not coordinate" with a PAC that prosecutors tied to the Mexican businessman, said Jennifer Tierney, a campaign spokeswoman.