Back in May 2012, a source sent me snapshots of a glossy flyer that, on one side, encouraged support for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' mayoral bid and, on the other side, promoted "Coed Thursdays" at Belo, a Downtown nightclub. I did some asking around at the time, but ultimately came up with nothing solid. Until now.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's office announced the arrest of two men—retired San Diego Police Det. Ernesto "Ernie" Encinas and Ravneet Singh, founder and CEO of ElectionMall, a campaign-services company. A complaint alleges that Encinas and Singh conspired with an unnamed "foreign national" to illegally funnel money to several local campaigns. The first campaign they got involved with was Dumanis' mayoral bid. According to the official complaint, in May 2012, Encinas created an independent-expenditure committee to which Jose Susumo Azano Matsura—the "foreign national"—donated $100,000. The PAC's official name was "San Diegans for Bonnie Dumanis for Mayor 2012, Sponsored by Airsam N492RM, LLC." Shortly after it was created, CityBeat's Dave Maass spotted the campaign filing and used public records to connect Airsam to Azano. Maass questioned whether it was legal for a foreign national to be contributing to a U.S. political campaign, but GOP strategist Kevin Spillane, who managed the PAC, told Maass that Azano had a green card. That ended up being untrue—Azano doesn't have a green card and, therefore, can't legally contribute to U.S. political campaigns.
That was just the beginning. The complaint describes how Encinas and Singh approached two mayoral campaigns and a congressional campaign and used an unnamed "straw man"—campaign-finance records point to La Jolla luxury-car salesman Marc Chase—to funnel money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a committee supporting Bob Filner for mayor. In September, Encinas told a representative of Nathan Fletcher's mayoral campaign that any donations from Azano would be contingent on Fletcher, if elected, ousting Police Chief Williams Lansdowne and allowing Encinas to pick the replacement. The complaint emphasizes that Fletcher was unaware of these discussions.
On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Attorney's office announced the arrest of lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes in connection to the Encinas case. According to city lobbying disclosures, Cortes represents American Towing Inc., the Community Financial Services Association (payday lenders), the Border Transportation Council and the San Diego Hospitality and Entertainment Coalition, a group of adult-entertainment businesses, among other clients. He also represents three Downtown businesses seeking entertainment permits. Recently, Cortes lobbied Assistant Police Chief Cesar Solis, police Lt. Dan Plein and Jericho Salvador, the police department's California Public Records Act liaison, on "fair and reasonable regulation" of the adult / nude entertainment industry. Cortes also recently lobbied San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne on behalf of WSA Entertainment, which, last year, took over the former location of nightclub On Broadway. The lobbying disclosure says Cortes was seeking to get the club's conditional-use permit amended and and expedite planning and building permits.
We know that, on at least one occasion, Cortes took Encinas along to lobby. According to City Councilmember Marti Emerald's calendar—she's the only City Council member who posts a current calendar online—on Aug. 14, Cortes and Encinas met with her staff to discuss "SDPD Vice Policies & Procedures / Entertainment Permits & ABC [Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] Licensing."
Emerald's office said the staffer who handled that meeting is on vacation and they'll get me additional details as soon as she returns.
Vice is an area of expertise for Encinas. After he retired from the SDPD, he started Coastline Protection Inc., a private-security firm. From Encinas' LinkedIn profile:
Ernie Encinas, is a 31-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, with past assignments in Patrol, SWAT, Vice, Narcotics, Gangs, Homicide, and multiple Investigations Units. Our management staff, including Ernie, has experience working effectively with the ATF, F.B.I., D.E.A., U.S. Secret Service, Homeland Security and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.
Azano was one of his clients. So, too, was Kearny Mesa strip club Pure Platinum. A June 2011 10 News story about the club getting its liquor license revoked—after the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control documented "six cocaine sales involving employees as well as several lewd act violations"—quotes Encinas as head of security for the club.
According to a cached version of Coastline Protection Inc.'s website (which is no longer online; see below), the company worked security, or provided security training, for a number of Downtown nightclubs, bars and events, including the Hard Rock Hotel, Fluxx, On Broadway, Onyx Room and Sidebar. Belo, which, earlier this year, was replaced by a club called Fuse, was also a client. An anonymous comment on a nightclub website, by someone who claims to have once worked for Encinas, credits Encinas with keeping Vice out of the club's hair: "Belo is kept open due to ex San Diego Police Department Vice Cop Ernie Encinas," the commenter wrote. "I worked for Ernie wth Coastline Protection and Investigations for 6 months and got to see first hand what happens when a cop gets put on a pedestal and given money and free range to do whatever he likes."
Encinas had a second company called Vice Consultants that, among other things, specialized in "Department of ABC Consulting" and "Liaison with SD Police Department VICE Unit."
(For more on Encinas' connections to nightclubs and strip joints, see Kristina Davis' piece in today's U-T.)
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