US government alleges illegal donations from Mexican businessman went to San Diego politicians

SAN DIEGO – Hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from a wealthy Mexican businessman supported San Diego politicians, according to a federal complaint unsealed Tuesday.

The businessman has homes in California but is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident, making it illegal for him to donate to campaigns, the complaint says. He has not been charged and isn’t named in the complaint, but two alleged associates and a company are charged with conspiracy to commit offences against the United States.

Ravneet Singh, 41, and his Washington-based campaign services firm ElectionMall Inc., and Ernesto Encinas, 57, a retired San Diego police detective, are accused of funneling the businessman’s money to support San Diego mayoral candidates and an unnamed candidate for federal office in 2012 and 2013.

There is no suggestion that any elected official or candidate knew the contributions were illegal and none is named in the complaint. A “representative” of one mayoral campaign eventually became a confidential informant after being granted immunity from prosecution.

ElectionMall representatives didn’t respond to a phone message late Tuesday, and there were no phone listings for Singh or Encinas, who were arraigned Tuesday. Singh’s attorney, Michael Lipman, told the U-T San Diego newspaper that his client denied wrongdoing and would vigorously defend himself against “unfounded charges.”

The Mexican businessman donated $100,000 to a political action committee for a mayoral candidate in 2012 after deciding the previous year that he wanted to influence San Diego electoral politics, according to the complaint.

The retired police detective, who served as the businessman’s security detail, allegedly arranged for an unnamed “straw donor” to write a $30,000 check to a committee that supported a candidate for federal office in 2012, the complaint says. The straw donor also allegedly wrote a $120,000 check in October 2012 to a committee supporting another mayoral candidate.

The complaint says the retired detective met with the informant last year after Bob Filner’s resignation as mayor amid widespread allegations of sexual harassment. The retired detective allegedly offered to funnel campaign contributions from the Mexican businessman to a candidate seeking to replace Filner in a special election but insisted that Police Chief William Lansdowne be fired and replaced with his own choice, according to the complaint.