Ethics commission levies $80,000 fine against La Jolla luxury auto dealership owner

By City News Service

The city of San Diego’s Ethics Commission announced April 11 that an $80,000 fine was levied against the co-owner of a La Jolla luxury car dealership, who pleaded guilty in federal court to eight misdemeanor counts of campaign finance crimes.

The charge is separate from $800,000 in federal fines faced by Marc Alan Chase, who faces up to eight years behind bars when he is sentenced Nov. 13.

On April 10, Chase admitted charges that included conspiracy, aiding and abetting contributions by a foreign national and making a “straw” contribution in connection with a federal campaign.

Two of Chase’s corporations, South Beach Acquisitions Inc. and West Coast Acquisitions Inc., consented to the filing of felony charges of conspiracy and entered into deferred prosecution agreements with federal prosecutors.

Chase conceded hat he conspired with Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura and Azano associates Ravneet Singh, Ernesto Encinas and Marco Polo Cortes to make several illegal contributions involving various campaigns for elective office, including the 2012 mayoral campaigns of Bob Filner and Bonnie Dumanis and the congressional campaign of Rep. Juan Vargas.

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

Chase confessed to helping make a series of donations by Azano. In addition, Chase admitted to facilitating a conduit contribution in connection with a federal campaign, which is illegal even if the source is a U.S. citizen.

The Ethics Commission said its fine, which Chase agreed to, stems from laundering or facilitating the laundering of $156,000 of campaign funds from Azano. Of that money, $120,000 went to the San Diegans in Support of Bob Filner for Mayor 2012 Committee and $30,000 was earmarked for the San Diego County Democratic Party, according to the commission.

The agency said Chase also solicited donations for a committee backing the reelection of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, and that he repaid his workers with money received from Azano.

The city’s election laws prohibit donations made under someone else’s names since it’s a way of circumventing donation limits.

“Campaign money laundering is among the most egregious violations of the city’s campaign laws,” said John O’Neill, the commission’s vice chairman. “The stiff penalties imposed today should serve as an important reminder that anyone who participates or assists in the laundering of contributions in city elections will be held accountable.”

Commission Executive Director Stacey Fulhorst said the case has been under investigation since last August. The Ethics Commission has been cooperating with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, she said.

When the fine is paid, the money will go into the city’s general fund.

In acknowledging his participation in the conspiracy, Chase admitted that he covered up the illegal activity, ensuring that Azano’s name did not appear in any public filing.

The Mexican businessman -- who owns two homes in Coronado -- hoped to turn San Diego’s bayfront into a West Coast version of Miami, according to prosecutors.

Encinas, a former San Diego police detective and owner of a private security firm, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

Singh, a self-styled campaign guru and owner of a Washington, D.C.-based campaign services company, and Cortes, a local lobbyist, have pleaded not guilty to similar charges of trying to hide the source of the campaign donations.