Mexican businessman, retired San Diego police officer accused of conspiracy against U.S.

Some politicans promise to return campaign money

SAN DIEGO - The Mexican millionaire businessman allegedly behind the campaign finance scandal rocking the city, hung up on Team 10 Wednesday.

A federal indictment accuses a "foreign national" -- who a source identified to Team 10 as Susumo Azano -- of trying to illegally influence San Diego politics.

Team 10 first met Azano in 2011 when he was accused of trying to use his political influence to shut down a Mexican power plant owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy.

At the time, Azano told Team 10, "I'm an honest person."

Today, he faces accusations of conspiring with retired San Diego police detective Ernesto Encinas and a self-described elections "guru" from Washington, D.C., to funnel hundreds of thousand of dollars to political candidates. Federal law forbids foreign nationals from contributing to American elections.

Investigators said the money was laundered through "shell businesses" and then went to Political Action Committees.

The indictment does not name the political candidates and refers to them by numbers.

However, Team 10 sources said the candidates involved were San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, former Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher, and  Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego.

Vargas said he would return any donations from individuals who were named in the federal complaint, which could total $3,500.

Interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria returned a $500 donation that was made to his 2012 San Diego City Council re-election campaign.

The FBI said money was funneled into local political campaigns, in part, by retired officer Ernesto Encinas.

According to court documents, investigators said retired detective Encinas offered campaign money to a San Diego mayoral candidate in September 2013. In return, Encinas expected the new mayor to fire SDPD Chief Bill Lansdowne, and let him pick the next police chief.

The candidate is not named in court documents, which also stated the candidate did not know about the offer from Encinas.

Team 10 talked to Lansdowne Wednesday, and he said federal investigators contacted him and told him not to talk about the case. That's all Lansdowne would say.

The other alleged co-conspirator is 41-year-old Ravneet Singh, who owns ElectionMall Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based company. Investigators said the company provides social media services and other campaign and election products to political candidates throughout the world.

None of the three men could be reached for comment as of Wednesday evening.

(Updated at 5:27 pm Wednesday)

The U.S. Attorneys Office late Wednesday said a San Diego-based lobbyist is involved in the campaign finance scandal.

Marco Polo Cortes was arrested by FBI Agents on Tuesday, in the Little Italy section of San Diego, according to a news release. Cortes made his initial federal court appearance Wednesday.

Investigators said Cortes conspired with Ravneet Singh and Ernesto Encinas to funnel more than $500,000 of illegal foreign money into San Diego municipal and federal campaigns.

Cortes has lobbied San Diego Police Department officials, city council members and mayoral staff.

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