The U.S. Attorney’s office has released information that a tech CEO and a former San Diego police detective are accused of illegally funneling more than $500,000 to San Diego political campaigns in hopes of influencing elections, including the 2013 special mayoral election.
On Tuesday, Ravneet Singh, the proprietor of Washington D.C.-based ElectionMall, Inc., was arraigned on charges that he conspired to finance political campaigns using money from an illegal foreign source. Singh was arrested by FBI agents on Friday, Jan. 17.
A complaint identified Singh’s co-conspirator to be former San Diego Police Detective Ernesto Encinas. Federal prosecutors say Encinas wanted the next mayor to fire the current San Diego Police chief and replace him with who he wanted.
The complaint goes on to say “Between approximately 2011 and 2013, Singh and Encinas helped the Foreign National donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to a series of candidates for elective office—including during the 2012 San Diego mayoral election, a 2012 Congressional campaign and the 2013 San Diego special mayoral election (up to, but not after, December 2013).”
The court documents do not identify the candidates whose campaigns benefited from this alleged activity.
However, NBC 7 found campaign contribution receipts revealing District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ campaign received thousands of dollars from Encinas in 2012.
Late Tuesday night, Dumanis’ campaign consultant gave NBC 7 this statement:
“The complaint filed today appears to be related to contributions to an expenditure committee and not our campaign. Our campaign followed the law and did not coordinate with this independent committee.”
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Interim Mayor Todd Gloria's office confirmed to NBC 7 that Gloria received a campaign contribution from Encinas in March 2012. The money was refunded this morning, according to Gloria's spokesperson.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas D-San Diego returned $3,500 to Encinas for the campaign that resulted in his election to Congress.
Vargas issued a statement in which he said he urged the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to return funds to those listed in the complaint "out of an abundance of caution."
NBC 7 also reached out to current mayoral candidates David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer. The Alvarez camp responded to our questions saying, “The campaign has not accepted any contributions from and has had no involvement with Election Mall Inc., Ravneet Singh or Ernesto Encinas.”
A spokesperson for Kevin Faulconer says he “has no involvement in this issue.”
On Wednesday, Faulconer spoke with NBC 7 about the federal investigation.
"It needs to be investigated and it is. We need to make sure all the rules are being followed. In fact as mayor that's something I'm going to insist on, is someone who's going to bring openness and transparency to City Hall," Faulconer said.
FBI officials said the Foreign National’s illegal contributions included:
- A $100,000 contribution to a SuperPAC
- $100,000 in unreported compensation for campaign services
- A $30,000 contribution to a political party committee
- Another $190,000 in unreported compensation for campaign services
- A $150,000 contribution to another SuperPAC
- A $30,000 contribution to another political party committee
- The promise of a “mill” in additional contributions
NBC 7 has learned that U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy will not be involved in this case.
Duffy’s office confirmed that one of her assistants Cindy Cipriani is the Acting U.S. Attorney for this prosecution.
Duffy’s office will not explain why she recused herself and our request for comment from the Department of Justice has not been answered.
But Duffy could have a conflict-of-interest, related to her public criticism of Bob Filner after a candidate’s forum, in the 2012 mayor’s race.