A San Diego car dealer has pleaded guilty in a campaign finance scandal in which a foreign millionaire is accused of funneling $500,000 into political campaigns.
Marc Chase, 52, owner of Symbolic Motor Cars on La Jolla Boulevard, appeared in federal court Thursday and pleaded guilty to 8 misdemeanor counts.
Chase admitted to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions with cash paid to him by a foreign businessman.
“He made a mistake,” said Chase’s defense attorney Guadalupe Valencia. " He’s accepting responsibility and he hopes to move forward someday."
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.
On Thursday, Chase admitted that, between Dec. 29, 2011 and Jan. 2, 2012, he recruited people to donate $500 each to hide the source of the funds.
Employees, relatives and acquaintances helped make the contributions for Azano to campaigns for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, former mayor Bob Filner and U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas.
Chase admitted in court that he made three large contributions totaling $180,000 in September and October 2012.
Court documents show Anzano wrote a $380,000 check to “Symbolic” on Oct. , 2012 which Chase deposited. Part of that money was to reimburse Chase, officials said. The rest was to pay for a painting Chase had previously sold Azano.
Prosecutors say Susumo Azano hoped his contributions would give him the inside track to develop high-rise buildings on the San Diego bayfront.
As part of a plea agreement, Chase was released on his own recognizance.
Chase is not permitted to travel outside the continental U.S. without permission and the judge ordered him to undergo psychological counseling or therapy as part of the plea deal.
Chase and his company have raised millions and millions of dollars over the years for children and lots of other causes, Valencia said.
“He’s hoping that this case doesn’t tarnish that image and the good work they’ve done over many, many years,” he said.
His sentencing hearing was scheduled for November 13. He faces up to eight years in prison and $800,000 in fines, officials said.