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Ex-Cop Pleads Guilty In San Diego Foreign Campaign Fund Scandal

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A retired San Diego police detective accused of conspiring to funnel $500,000 in illegal foreign money into local and federal political campaigns changed his plea to guilty Tuesday on two counts: conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States and filing a false tax return.

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Ernesto Encinas Plea Agreement

Ernesto Encinas Plea Agreement

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Special Feature Dirty Money

All of the background information on campaign contributions illegally funneled from a wealthy Mexican businessman to local candidates.

Encinas admitted to U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo that he and his co-conspirators made illegal campaign contributions on behalf of wealthy Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura.

It is illegal for non-U.S. citizens to contribute to political campaigns.

Encinas also admitted as part of his plea that he and others, including Azano, Ravneet Singh, a Washington-based campaign services CEO, and Marco Polo Cortes, a San Diego lobbyist, falsified records to impede a federal investigation.

The federal complaints against Encinas, Singh and Cortes were unsealed in January and accused the men of moving at least $500,000 of Azano's billions to San Diego mayoral and congressional races in 2012 and 2013. Azano, whose family owns two homes in Coronado, was arrested by FBI agents in February. Azano, Singh and Cortes have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said the men targeted four candidates, though they did not name the politicians. KPBS has identified them as District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican; Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego); and former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and ex-Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, both Democrats.

An inewsource review of public documents shows the campaigns of Dumanis, Vargas and Filner received donations from at least one of the three men involved.

In addition to the campaign financing violations, Encinas admitted he made false statements to the Internal Revenue Service in 2011 and 2012 when filing returns for his private security business, Coastline Protection and Investigations Inc.

Encinas told the court that Azano paid him $10,000 in cash "off the books." The former police officer also failed to report about $147,300 in cash payments in 2011 and about $74,900 in cash payments in 2012.

This led to a tax loss of $69,394, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which Encinas has agreed to repay.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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