SAN DIEGO -- A retired San Diego police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to being part of a conspiracy to funnel illegal money into the 2012 mayoral campaign.
Ernesto Encinas, 58, who retired after 31 years in the Police Department, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the Internal Revenue Service. He faces a maximum eight years in prison when sentenced June 9.
Encinas said he and co-conspirators helped funnel more than $500,000 into the campaign, largely on behalf of then-Rep. Bob Filner and Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis. Filner was elected mayor in November 2012.
In some cases, "straw donors" were found to mask the source of the money, according to court documents.
The money, Encinas said, came from Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura. Federal law makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to political campaigns.
Prosecutors say Encinas and Ravneet Singh, 41, owner of ElectionMall Inc., steered money into independent committees supporting candidates.
Marco Polo Cortes, 44, of San Diego, a political lobbyist, and Azano, 48, of Coronado have also been charged.
"Illegal campaign contributions from foreign sources undermines our electoral process and ultimately our democracy," said Daphne Hearn, FBI special agent in charge of the San Diego office.
The charges contain no assertion that the candidates knew of the contributions to the independent committees.
Azano was interested in gaining support to build hotels along the San Diego waterfront, making it the "West Coast Miami," prosecutors said.Filner, who resigned Aug. 30, is finishing a 90-day sentence of home confinement after pleading guilty to three counts of mistreating women.