Towing company faces large fine for illegal campaign contributio - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Towing company faces large fine for illegal campaign contributions

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A local towing company on Thursday was handed one of the largest fines ever in San Diego for a campaign finance violation.

Investigators said the case involving Advantage Towing owner Aymen Arekat was serious as it comes because Arekat made illegal contributions to multiple candidates in the 2012 mayoral election.

"It involves campaign money laundering. It involves the prohibition on corporate contributions and it also involves disclosing the true source of donors," said Gary Winnick, Special Counsel for Ethics Commission.

According to investigators, Arekat laundered campaign donations to three different candidates. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, those candidates include: Carl DeMaio, Nathan Fletcher, and Bonnie Dumanis.

The investigation showed Arekat, who had contracts with the city, donated the maximum $500, and had his employees do the same with the understanding he would reimburse them - which he did.

"He really turned to the most vulnerable employees. He turned to his tow truck drivers who were new to this country, and put the pressure on them to have these checks written. They said my Arekat had called them directly and told them what to say to the commission and make statements that were not true," said Winnick.

Arekat's lawyer made the case that those foreign employees were misled by investigators. He also cited cultural differences.

"If they see a neighbor or friend giving a donation, culturally they go along with that and they also give a donation," said Arekat's lawyer.

The Ethics Committee sided with a judge's recommendation stating Arekat was guilty of 32 violations. The committee lowered the fine from $5,000 per violation to $4,000 per violation, making the total amount of the fine $128,000.

The three mayoral candidates did not respond to CBS News 8's request for comment. 

Advantage Towing's contract with the city is still in place, but it is now under review. 

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