Obama campaign to refund bundled donations tied to fugitive bail-jumper in Mexico

David Martosko Executive Editor
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President Obama’s re-election campaign received $200,000 in “bundled” donations collected by two American brothers of a casino owner who has been linked to violence and corruption in Mexico since he jumped bail in 1994 while appealing an Iowa fraud conviction, and a five-year prison term, related to a telemarketing company.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Carlos Rojas Cardona and Alberto Rojas Cardona, the Chicago-based brothers of fugitive Juan Jose Rojas “Pepe” Cardona, raised large amounts of money for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee beginning in the fall of 2011. Their sister, Leticia Rojas Cardona of Tennessee, joined them in personally making five-figure contributions.

Prosecutors in Iowa said that in January 2011, Carlos Rojas Cardona arranged for former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer to seek a pardon for Pepe Cardona — ultimately unsuccessfully — from outgoing Iowa governor Chet Culver.

In 2009, a State Department cable said Pepe was suspected of orchestrating a business rival’s assassination and making illegal campaign donations to Mexican officials, according to the Times.

His brother Alberto appeared on a list of top contribution bundlers released January 31 by the Obama campaign.

Obama campaign officials told the Times that the Cardona family’s own contributions comprised the bulk of the $200,000 raised by the two brothers. But the campaign also said it was working to identify other donations they bundled. Those contributions are believed to total less than $100,000.

“On the basis of the questions that have been raised, we will return the contributions from these individuals and from any other donors they brought to the campaign,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told the Times.

State Department cables made public by Wikileaks in 2011 indicate that Pepe Cardona was suspected in 2006 of illegally directing $5 million to political candidates in Mexico.

Known popularly as Mexico’s “casino czar,” he has opened gambling facilities in and around Monterey, Mexico with help from investors in Louisiana.

Manuel Sanchez, a Chicago lawyer who the Times said is “deeply involved in Latino outreach for the Obama administration,” told the newspaper that he had “no idea” of the Cardona family’s checkered history. He first met them, he said, during a December 2011 meeting of the Obama campaign’s finance committee in Washington D.C.

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David Martosko