Two airport shuttle company employees accused of making illegal donations to the campaign of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee last year pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen charges each today. Jason Perez, 40, and Hanan Qutami, 56, allegedly solicited fellow employees at Go Lorrie’s Airport Shuttles, a company based at San Francisco International Airport, to each write a $500 check to Lee’s campaign for mayor in the November election and promised they’d be reimbursed, prosecutors said.
After gathering 23 contributions of $500 from various employees, Perez, the company’s general manager, and Qutami, its chief financial officer, allegedly reimbursed the donors with funds from the company, according to the district attorney’s office. The two defendants are each charged with 23 counts of violating state election law prohibiting contributions made in a name other than the true name of a contributor, as well as one count each of violating city election laws of contributing more than $500 to a campaign and making a contribution by a corporation. They both surrendered to police late Tuesday and were released on $25,000 bail apiece, said Tony Brass, the attorney for Perez.
Brass said the contributions stem from a wish of Perez’s grandfather, Tony Ruiz, who founded Go Lorrie’s, to “protect a business that is vulnerable at the airport to competitors.” He said Ruiz “very much wanted them to get the ear of the mayor.” Ruiz died days after the allegations came to light in mid-October, Brass said. Qutami’s attorney, Mark Nicco, said outside of court that his client is innocent. “I don’t think she’s guilty of anything,” Nicco said. “She’s a hard-working, law-abiding citizen and mother.” Lee’s campaign returned all 23 contributions upon becoming aware of the allegations, campaign officials said at the time.
Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Tuesday that Lee supports the investigation. “The mayor … expects anyone who knowingly breaks the law to be held fully accountable.” Despite the allegation involving his campaign’s supporters, Lee easily won the Nov. 8 election, defeating Supervisor John Avalos 60 percent to 40 percent after 12 rounds of ranked-choice voting in the 16-candidate field.
Perez and Qutami each face a maximum of 12-and-a-half years in county jail and a fine of $34,500 if convicted of all counts, district attorney’s spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman said. The pair will return to court on March 21 for a pre-trial conference.
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