FBI looks for man who held Clinton, Boxer fundraisers

Pakistani immigrant is alleged to have supplied illegal contributions

March 03, 2007|By ROBIN FIELDS AND CHUCK NEUBAUER | ROBIN FIELDS AND CHUCK NEUBAUER,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A Pakistani immigrant who hosted fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is being sought by the FBI on allegations that he funneled illegal contributions to Clinton's political action committee and to Sen. Barbara Boxer's 2004 re-election campaign.

Authorities say Northridge, Calif., businessman Abdul Rehman Jinnah, 56, fled the country shortly after being indicted on charges of engineering more than $50,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic committees. A business associate charged as Jinnah's co-conspirator has entered a guilty plea and is scheduled to be sentenced in Los Angeles next week.

A federal law enforcement source said prosecutors had not dealt with the political committees in conducting their investigation and had no evidence that the committees knew the contributions were illegal.

Officials for both committees said they were unaware of the investigation or indictments until they were contacted by the Los Angeles Times, and said they would give the donations to charity.

The case has transformed Jinnah from a political point man on Pakistani issues, a man often photographed next to foreign dignitaries and U.S. leaders, into a fugitive with his mug shot on the FBI's most-wanted list.

Jinnah's profile peaked in 2004 and 2005 as he wooed members of Congress to join a caucus advancing Pakistani concerns and brought Clinton to speak to prominent Pakistani-Americans, lauding their homeland's contributions to the war on terrorism and calling relations with Pakistan beneficial to U.S. interests.

Jinnah and his family donated more than $135,000 to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. Now friends say they believe Jinnah has returned to Pakistan. Attempts to reach him and his relatives were unsuccessful. A "For Sale" sign stood in his yard Thursday, and a neighbor said the family had not been living there for months.

Jinnah appears to have attempted to circumvent election laws by reimbursing friends, business contacts and their family members for contributions made in their names, according to court records. Federal statutes set limits on contributions to federal campaigns and political action committees, barring donations made in the names of others. Authorities say that from June 2004 to February 2005, Jinnah directly or indirectly solicited contributions from more than a dozen "conduits," reimbursing them with funds from his company, All American Distributing, a seller of cell phone service and accessories.

The scheme allowed Jinnah to get around limits then in effect on individual donors of $5,000 per year to PACs and $2,000 per election to candidates, as well as the ban on using corporate money for political donations.

Jinnah's case has been handled with discretion by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, which recently lost a case against former Clinton campaign official David Rosen. He was acquitted of charges of filing false reports about a Hollywood fundraiser given for Clinton in 2000.

The indictment, handed down last May without a press release, mentions only the initials of the committees that received the illegal donations, referring to them as "HP" and "FB." However, the charging document filed against Jinnah's co-conspirator, Stuart Schoenburg, identifies one of the committees as HILLPAC, the leadership committee that Clinton formed after her first Senate campaign and still uses.

Though Clinton cannot use HILLPAC to fund her presidential campaign directly, the fund allows her to donate to Democratic candidates and organizations, as well as to pay some political staff and travel expenses.

The Times was able to identify donations to Boxer's campaign by cross-referencing dates and contributors' initials listed in the indictment with campaign finance records. The "FB" in the indictment stood for "Friends of Barbara Boxer."

According to the indictment, Jinnah arranged $30,000 in donations to HILL PAC by having Schoenburg, a Tarzana television producer, approach family members and others to act as straw donors. Schoenburg and five others contributed $5,000 apiece. Jinnah later reimbursed them with funds from his corporation, prosecutors say.

Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, said her campaign was not aware of contact between her staff and federal investigators looking into the donations. He said HILL PAC would give back the contributions cited in the indictment, as well as others from Jinnah and his family.

Robin Fields and Chuck Neubauer write for the Los Angeles Times.

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