Politics

Ravi Singh charged with election fraud

By Anju Kaur | January 30, 2014
Ravneet (Ravi) Singh, founder of ElectionMall, is accused of campaign finance fraud.

Ravneet (Ravi) Singh, founder of ElectionMall, is accused of campaign finance fraud.

Ravneet Singh, founder of ElectionMall, an Internet-based campaign-services company, was arrested on Jan. 17 by FBI agents for allegedly facilitating nearly $300,000 in illegal foreign contributions to two candidates in San Diego’s 2012 mayoral race.

Ravneet Singh, 41, of Washington, made his initial court appearance on Jan. 21, in San Diego. He was charged with conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States. He had to surrender his passport before being released on a $250,000 bond, which his parents posted by using their Chicago home as collateral.

According to court documents filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Ravneet Singh is implicated in a widening scandal over election fraud. 

Ravneet Singh, popularly known as Ravi Singh, and “campaign guru,” is accused of being one of several co-conspirators who helped an unnamed wealthy Mexican businessman illegally funnel about $570,000 into San Diego’s mayoral and congressional races, from 2011 to 2013, according to the complaint released on Jan 21. 

Campaign finance laws forbid a foreign national from making direct or indirect donations, contributions or expenditures to any local, state or federal election.

Ravi Singh, ElectionMall and a retired police detective, Ernesto Encinas, are listed as defendants in the complaint. 

Encinas, 57, of San Diego, played a leading role in soliciting campaign representatives and helping the Mexican create schemes to hide illegal campaign donations, according to the complaint.

Encinas owns a private security business that provided bodyguard services for the Mexican. Sometime in 2011, the Mexican became interested in influencing San Diego’s electoral politics, the complaint says. 

He and Encinas approached campaign representatives about making donations. Although they were told of election laws forbidding foreign nationals from making donations, they proceeded to create conduits to illicitly provide money and services. Over the three-year period, the Mexican had filled his illegal campaign coffers with about $770,000, according to the complaint.

The complaint does not specify the names of the candidates, and only refers to them as “Candidate 1,” “Candidate 2,” “Candidate 3,” and “Candidate 4.” None of the candidates are implicated but two of the campaign representatives became FBI informants in exchange for prosecution immunity. 

In exchange for foreign money, Encinas allegedly sought a “guarantee” from the next mayor of San Diego to fire the city’s police chief and replace him with a person of his choice, the complaint says.

The Mexican used various schemes to influence candidates. 

One of the schemes was to have Encinas form a SuperPAC, which is an independent campaign committee used to pay for political advertising. According to the complaint, the Mexican passed $100,000 to the SuperPAC through an unnamed U.S.-based shell corporation.

In another scheme, the Mexican passed money through an unnamed legal donor, referred to as the “Straw Donor” in the complaint. The Straw Donor owns a California company and is a friend of the Mexican, and is alleged to be another co-conspirator. The Mexican wrote a $380,000 check to the Straw Donor who distributed the money to various bank accounts under the Straw Donor’s control, and allegedly made contributions to a candidate for federal elective office during the 2012 general election cycle.

In yet another scheme, the complaint alleges that the Mexican used Ravi Singh and ElectionMall to buy $290,000 of social-media services for a mayoral candidate in the 2012 primary election and a second mayoral candidate in the 2012 general election.

According to the complaint, emailed receipts and bank records show that the Mexican purchased “display ads, banner ads, text ads and key ad word placement from Google,” and paid for these services by two wire transfers from a Mexico-based company to ElectionMall's bank account. The campaign-related spending was not reported in a public filing, as required by campaign finance laws. 

“Singh, ElectionMall, Encinas and others facilitated illegal in-kind contributions by a foreign national… while impeding any investigation into the true source of the funds,” the complaint alleges. 

On Jan. 21, FBI agents arrested another alleged co-conspirator, Marco Polo Cortes, 44, of San Diego. According to a news release from Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Perry, Cortes is a lobbyist who lobbies San Diego police department officials, city council members and mayoral staff. Cortes, and yet another co-conspirator, helped the Mexican donate money in the Straw Donor’s name to a candidate for federal elective office during the 2012 general election cycle. 

“Marco Polo Cortes was granted a $100,000 bond secured by real property during a hearing yesterday (Jan. 28),” said Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. “At this moment he remains in custody until the bond is posted,” she told SikhNN.

Thornton would not comment on why Encinas was never arrested, and therefore had no bond to post. He made his initial court appearance on Jan. 23.

All co-conspirators are facing the same charges. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment. 

Ravi Singh, ElectionMall, Encinas, Cortes, other unnamed co-conspirators and the Mexican are still under investigation for “possible illegal campaign contributions and expenditures, as well as potential conspiracies to deprive the public of honest services through the improper influence of San Diego City officials,” the complaint says. 

A preliminary hearing for Ravi Singh is set for Feb. 4, and arraignment is set for Feb. 18.

_________________________From Sikh News Network archives.