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Almost a year after he was convicted of helping a wealthy Mexican businessman funnel money to support candidates running for local and federal office in San Diego, Ravneet “Ravi” Singh was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $10,000.
The feds had argued for the self-styled “campaign guru” to receive six years in prison, but still celebrated the sentence handed down Thursday as a blow to those who would tamper with U.S. elections.
“This prison sentence underscores an important message: Anyone who tries to manipulate the American electorate will pay a high price,” stated Blair Perez, the executive assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.
Meanwhile, the FBI used news of Singh’s sentencing to send a warning to other consultants.
“Public corruption undermines the strength and confidence in our system of government which is why these cases are a top criminal priority for the FBI,” Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum said in a statement. “The American people can count on the FBI to continue to bring these complex, sensitive, and important cases to justice.”
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the former CEO of DC-based ElectionMall Technologies got emotional in the San Diego courtroom as the sentence was handed down. “I’m a very different person than I was five years ago,” Singh said. “I’ve always wanted to serve my country, now I can’t even vote.”
He pledged to be “more careful” in his business, to “slow things down and think things through” and to "take advice from mentors,” according to the paper.
An attorney for Singh told C&E that he will remain free on bond pending appeal — at least until a hearing next month. “He’s not happy to get a 16-month sentence, but it’s a lot better than 72 months,” Lipman said. “He believes he didn’t do anything wrong. We’ll see what happens.”
Rather than consulting, Michael Lipman said that Singh was currently working on his Ph.D in Florida. (Singh was named a C&E Rising Star in 2007, a recognition C&E revoked following his 2016 conviction.)
At the trial, the court heard how Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, Singh, and others “conspired to inject hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind consulting services to the  Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner campaigns,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office for Southern California.
It is illegal for foreign nationals without legal residency in America to donate to U.S. candidates.
“To conceal his connection to these contributions, Azano arranged with his son Edward Hester and others to funnel this illegal foreign money through corporate and third person ‘straw donor’ contributions,” the release states. “The conspirators, moreover, arranged for at least $267,000 worth of Singh’s in-kind consulting services to be secretly funneled to the campaigns.” That was part of a total of more than $600,000 of Azano’s money that went to influence elections in San Diego.
According to the government, Singh used his skill as a consultant to conceal how the money he was paid for his services came from a foreign source.
For instance, he concealed the payments from Azano by “structuring the wires from a Mexican company, Broadlink, controlled by Azano, which had nothing to do with electoral politics, to company Singh controlled, not Election Mall, but eSolutions, which primarily developed software from India.”
That got the IRS’s attention. “IRS Criminal Investigation remains committed to the fight against campaign finance crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation R. Damon Rowe.
Singh also used code names for clients Dumanis and Filner, and “harshly” reprimanded employees for using those code names in emails — something he didn’t do for other clients.
Singh is the first defendant to be sentenced in the case that has riveted the San Diego campaign community. But Lipman, Singh’s lawyer, said the government’s case isn’t what it’s being presented to be. “I believe the government went after everybody in this case because they thought they had a corruption case on the then-mayor of San Diego [Bob Filner],” he said. “Everyone just got swept up.”