Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Obama campaign refunds up to $300,000 in donations from Chicago brothers tied to fugitive

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updated 1:45 pm est with new dollar figures

WASHINGTON--The Obama presidential campaign decided to return up to $300,000 in contributions after the New York Times broke the news that the money was collected mainly by two Chicago brothers whose third brother fled the U.S rather than face drug and fraud charges.

The donations were collected for the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee by Alberto Rojas Cardona, his brother Carlos, two sisters and a sister-in-law and a handful of others.

The New York Times reported late Monday that the fundraisers are the brothers of Mexico casino owner Juan Jose Rojas Cardona--known as Pepe--who skipped bail in Iowa in 1994. The New York Times story said that Juan Jose Rojas Cardona "has since been linked to violence and corruption in Mexico. A State Department cable in 2009 said he was suspected of orchestrating the assassination of a business rival and making illegal campaign donations to Mexican officials."

The Cardona family have not been political players in Illinois until now; they quickly worked their way up to elite levels of fund-raising.

Alberto Rojas Cardona was one of the elite Obama fund-raisers--known as "bundlers" who tap their extensive personal networks for campaign contributions. According to a bundler list released by the Obama campaign, Alberto Rojas Cardona helped raise between $200,000 and $500,000--though as of Tuesday morning his name was scratched from the web site.

The campaign said the family bundled about $200,000; up to another $100,000 came from other donors brought in by the Cardonas. The campaign on Tuesday afternoon was in the process of finalizing the total.

Asked by the Sun-Times for an explanation on Tuesday morning, a senior Obama campaign official said, as soon as questions were raised by the New York Times, "we took a look at the contributions and we decided to refund them in full from all members of the family as well as from donors that they brought into the campaign."

The campaign has to date some 1.3 million donors; larger donations and some fund-raising activity is subject to vetting by the campaign staff. Asked why the campaign vetters did not pick up on the Cardona family, the senior official said, "it was very difficult to track down full information on this one. Obviously the New York Times put investigative resources into doing so. We don't necessarily have, our vetters don't necessarily have that same ability to pursue that in the case of our 1.3 million donors. As soon as the questions were raised, we refunded the contributions."

The New York Times also reported that Carlos Rojas Cardona, "arranged for the former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party to seek a pardon from the governor for Pepe Cardona, according to prosecutors in that state. None was forthcoming."

The refunds went to donors Aracely Rojas, V. Carlos Rojas Cardona, Alberto Rojas Cardona, Leticia Rojas Cardona and Areli Rojas Cardona.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 7, 2012 11:44 AM.

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