Ernesto Encinas, 57, surrendered his passport and was allowed to remain free on his own recognizance. He is charged with conspiring to evade federal campaign finance laws with San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes and self-proclaimed Washington “campaign guru” Ravneet Singh.
An FBI criminal complaint alleges that the three helped direct cash from a foreign national into several local campaigns over the past two years, including the recent San Diego mayoral races.
Federal law makes it illegal for non-citizens without green cards to contribute to U.S. election campaigns.
Multiple news reports identified Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, a Mexican businessman with a home in Coronado, as the foreign national who supplied the money, said to be at least $500,000.
The filing of the charges against the defendants prompted several local politicians to return campaign donations from Encinas, including interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Rep. Juan Vargas (D- San Diego) and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, who is running for Congress this year.
Encinas is scheduled to be back in Federal court early next month.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 4 for Singh.
The defendants face 5 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted.