Ex-Detective Pleads Guilty in Campaign Finance Scandal

A former San Diego police detective, accused of helping funnel illegal funds into local political campaigns, has pleaded guilty.

Ernesto Encinas, 57, appeared before federal Magistrate Judge William Gallo Tuesday afternoon. Encinas pleaded guilty to two felony charges, conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S. and filing a false tax return.

According to an FBI complaint, Encinas worked with Internet CEO Ravneet Singh to funnel more hundreds of thousands of dollars into San Diego political races, mostly in 2012 and 2013. Federal prosecutors said Encinas wanted to influence the election so the next mayor of San Diego would fire then-Police Chief William Lansdowne.

Encinas' attorney Jeremy Warren said his client admits he wanted to oust Lansdowne, but thought his goals were "noble."

“He did what he did in the best interest, of what he felt was in the best interest, of the police department, his fellow brethren within the police department and the citizens of San Diego,” Warren said.

“Obviously the ends don’t justify the means. That’s why he took responsibility for what he did,” Warren added.

Lansdowne stepped down from the department last month amid a sexual harassment scandal involving police officers. Mayor Kevin Faulconer appointed Chief Shelley Zimmerman as Lansdowne's replacement.

“The new mayor did exactly what Mr. Encinas wanted,” Warren said.

Encinas worked for the department for 30 years before retiring in 2009.

Mexican mulit-millionaire Jose Susumo Azano is accused of providing the money that was funneled. It is illegal for foreign nationals to donate to American political campaigns. Azano is currently on house arrest at his Coronado home.

During his initial court appearance Jan. 23, Encinas did not enter a plea, but did acknowledge the charges. The judge allowed Encinas to be released after surrendering his passport and firearms.

Encinas is scheduled to be sentenced June 9. Warren said his client faces several years in prison, but hopes the judge grants him probation instead.

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