A wealthy car dealer implicated in a campaign finance scandal has hired one of San Diego’s most experienced and respected defense attorneys.
NBC 7 has learned that attorney Michael Pancer now represents Marc Chase, owner of Symbolic Motor Cars, on La Jolla Boulevard.
Prosecutors say a billionaire Mexican businessman, identified as Jose Susumo Azano, funneled more than $500,000 into local campaigns. It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to U.S. elections.
Neither Susumo nor Chase have been charged in this case, but three others, including a former San Diego Police Department detective and a City Hall lobbyist, are accused of Conspiracy to Commit Offenses Against the United States.
Those criminal complaints indicate that Chase acted as a “Straw Donor” by funneling at least $180,000 of Susumo Azano’s money into independent campaigns benefiting mayoral candidate Bob Filner and congressional candidate Juan Vargas.
Prosecutors say Susumo Azano hoped his contributions would give him the inside track to develop high-rise buildings on the San Diego bayfront.
Former federal prosecutor John Kirby says Chase could face criminal charges for his alleged role in the scandal.
Those charges might not be as serious as the one used against the three named defendants, but Kirby told NBC 7, “Usually, when you’re talking about campaign contributions, you can find a statue that will work.”
Kirby says Chase might be cooperating with the FBI in hopes of avoiding those charges.
On Monday, Chase’s attorney, Michael Pancer was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Attorney Guadalupe Valencia, who is working on the case with Pancer, would not address the legal aspects of the case, but stressed that Chase is an upstanding citizen and very generous donor to local charities, including a fund for research into childhood diseases at the Scripps Research Institute.