Friday, June 14, 2024

Frequent GOP L.A. congressional candidate charged with misusing campaign funds

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WASHINGTON — 

Omar Navarro, a favorite of former President Trump’s MAGA movement for repeatedly challenging Democrat Maxine Waters for her congressional seat, was indicted Wednesday on 43 counts of misusing campaign funds, including funneling tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations back to himself through friends and family.

FBI agents also arrested Navarro’s mother, Dora Asghari, 59, of Torrance and a friend, Zacharias Diamantides-Abel, 34, of Long Beach. Both are accused of conspiring with Navarro to convert campaign donations to personal use. Navarro, 34, is in state custody on unrelated charges, according to the office of the district attorney for the Central District of California, but he is expected to be turned over soon to federal authorities.

Federal prosecutors in the Central District of California unsealed a 45-page indictment charging Navarro with 13 counts of wire fraud, 26 counts of falsification of records and three counts of prohibited use of campaign funds. Asghari is charged with six counts of wire fraud. Diamantides-Abel is charged with two counts of wire fraud. All three defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy.

Navarro, a Republican, ran against Waters for her 43rd Congressional District seat in south L.A. County in the last four elections. He consistently garnered less than 25% of the vote, but his use of digital media and campaign stunts attracted high-profile friends within Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, including former national security advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump political advisor Roger Stone.

The attention also led to an outpouring of donations to his campaigns. Navarro raised just $2,846 in 2016, but brought in $1.17 million in 2018 and $731,118 in 2020, when he failed to advance to the general election. He collected $85,997 in 2022. Navarro acted as his own campaign treasurer in all four campaigns, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

During his quixotic campaigns against the popular 16-term congresswoman, he frequently faced questions about how he was funding his lifestyle, including high-profile stops at far-right events, while he was largely unemployed. Navarro came to the FBI’s attention in 2018 after posting a doctored image of Waters’ official House letterhead on social media.

Attorneys for Navarro did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The indictment made public Wednesday alleges that Navarro made payments from his campaign to various individuals — including Asghari and Diamantides-Abel — who then transferred the money back to him.

The Republican is also accused of using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including trips to Las Vegas and wine country, as well as two criminal defense attorneys who helped him when he pleaded guilty to felony stalking in 2020. According to the indictment, Navarro later falsely reported these expenditures as campaign expenses to the FEC.

Asghari and Diamantides-Abel are accused of concealing the scheme by cashing the checks rather than depositing them into their personal bank accounts.

Between December 2017 and June 2020, Diamantides-Abel and Asghari received $49,260 and $58,625, respectively, from Navarro’s campaign, according to the indictment. Asghari is also accused of creating a shell company to facilitate receiving the campaign payments and transferring the money back to Navarro and his own shell company.

According to the indictment, from January 2018 through July 1, 2020, Navarro deposited more than $100,000 in cash into his personal accounts, even though he had no other source of income and he frequently made deposits after Diamantides-Abel or Asghari cashed campaign checks. Navarro also formed a sham charity called the United Latino Foundation as another way to embezzle funds from his campaign for his personal use, according to the indictment.

The indictment includes 13 unindicted co-conspirators.

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