San Diego candidates return money linked to funding scandal - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego candidates return money linked to funding scandal

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8 / CNS) – A third person is charged in the fallout involving an alleged scheme to funnel illegal foreign money into San Diego municipal and federal campaigns.

Politicians are now giving money back to those named in the complaint.

Federal authorities alleged between 2011 and 2013, a self-proclaimed campaign guru Ravneet Singh and former San Diego Police detective Ernesto Encinas helped a foreign national illegally donate more than $500,000 to a series of candidates for elected office, including during the 2012 San Diego mayoral election, a 2012 congressional campaign and the 2013 San Diego special mayoral election – up to Dec. 2013.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis told CBS News 8 she was returning a total of $1,400 to retired San Diego police Detective Ernesto Encinas and his wife Sharon.

Dumanis is running for reelection in June.

Campaigns disclosures show there are dozens of donations from Encinas to Dumanis' campaign.

Records show Encinas donated $500 toward candidate Carl DeMaio's campaign and a spokesperson for his campaign says he is returning that donated money.

However the money donated by Encinas to DeMaio showed it came after his run for mayor.

Meanwhile, Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, did not return our calls to the CBS News 8 newsroom. Campaign disclosures show Vargas received $4,000 from Encinas.

Bob Filner did not return our calls but campaign records show Encinas donated $500 to his campaign.

In the complaint, claims are made that Encinas and Ravneet Singh conspired with a person known as Foreign National to direct $500,000 of illegal foreign money into San Diego municipal and federal campaigns, primarily in 2012 and last year.

On Wednesday, San Diego-based lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes, was charged with conspiracy to finance political campaigns with money from an illegal foreign source.

Singh, 41, owns Washington, D.C.-based ElectionMall Inc., a company that provided social media services and other campaign and election products to political candidates throughout the world, according to court documents.

Encinas, the owner of a San Diego-based private security and consulting business, oversaw the protection detail of a person identified in the complaint only as "the Foreign National."

Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from making any contributions or expenditures in connection with any American electoral campaign, whether at the federal, state or local level.

Councilman Todd Gloria and now interim mayor also received $500 from Encinas and says he is returning the money. None of the races Gloria ran in were cited in the complaint.

All of the candidates CBS News 8 spoke to about the allegations and said they were returning money also said they were not aware of the alleged scheme.

In one of the allegations it is accuses Singh, Encinas and Cortes of working with a candidate in the special election to funnel money. However, the FBI says illegal money was not transferred to help that candidate.

A spokesperson for former Candidate Nathan Fletcher says he did not received money from Encinas and was not aware of the secret meetings as mentioned in the complaint.

Singh and Encinas are accused of knowingly using a series of increasingly complex techniques to hide the fact that the unnamed foreign national was the true source of illicit campaign funds.

The complaint alleges Encinas, 57, helped mask the foreign national's contributions through the use of shell companies, among other devices.

Similarly, Singh allegedly used his expertise to facilitate the donation of social media services to political candidates the foreign national favored.

The complaint alleges that those contributions -- sometimes classified as "in-kind contributions" -- were not reported in any campaign filings and totaled nearly $300,000.

Court papers allege Encinas wanted the next mayor to fire the chief of police and replace him with a person of Encinas' choosing in exchange for the foreign national's financial help.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Cortes, 44, was arrested in the Little Italy section of San Diego Tuesday. Court documents describe him as a business associate and friend of Encinas.

Cortes made his initial appearance at the U.S. District Courthouse on Wednesday and faces five years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

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