Company to pay $100K for money laundering scheme, contributions to Mayor Lee's campaign

A case of election fraud from the 2011 campaign season was finally settled Wednesday, with managers of an airport shuttle company pleading guilty to skirting campaign contribution limits on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee.

Lee, whose campaign received $11,500 from 23 employees of the Go Lorries shuttle company in September 2011, returned the donations once it was revealed that managers collected the maximum $500 contribution from workers on the promise that they would be reimbursed.

General Manager Jason Perez and Chief Financial Officer Hanan Qutami agreed with District Attorney George Gascón’s office to pay combined fines of nearly $100,000 — including company penalties.

Tony Brass, an attorney for Go Lorries, said the laundering scheme was prompted by company founder Tony Ruiz, Perez’s grandfather, whose deathbed wish was for Perez to undertake the donation scheme as a way to draw favor from the mayor. Brass said Ruiz felt outdone by other shuttle companies and was seeking favorable new airport transportation policies to stay competitive.

“There’s no reason to think the Ed Lee campaign had anything to do with it,” Brass said.

In March, Go Lorries paid nearly $50,000 to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which also investigated the matter. Brass said company managers immediately admitted wrongdoing when news of the laundering surfaced, but the long city process was due to an analysis of the company’s finances, which was designed to determine the appropriate fine.

The case represents one of three instances of alleged fraud connected to Lee’s 2011 campaign. Gascón’s office found insufficient evidence to file charges over similar allegations against a former CitiApartments manager, plus makeshift voting booths set up by an independent expenditure committee that helped senior citizens fill out ballots while stumping for Lee in Chinatown. At the time, Lee called for an immediate end to such activities and went so far as to call them “moronic.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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