Former Los Angeles County Congressional Candidate Charged in Campaign Funds Case

Former Los Angeles County Congressional Candidate Charged in Campaign Funds Case
A file photograph of a judge's gavel. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images)
City News Service

LOS ANGELES—A Torrance man who was a candidate for a Los Angeles County congressional seat in four elections has been charged with misusing campaign funds, including funneling tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations back to himself through friends and family, according to documents unsealed on Sept. 27.

Omar Navarro, 34, is charged in a 43-count Los Angeles federal grand jury indictment. He is currently in state custody on unrelated charges, but is expected to be turned over soon to federal authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

As part of the case, FBI agents arrested Dora Asghari, 59, of Torrance on Wednesday, who is Mr. Navarro's mother, and Zacharias Diamantides-Abel, 34, of Long Beach, who is a friend of Mr. Navarro, both of whom are accused of conspiring with Mr. Navarro to convert campaign donations to personal use.

Mr. Navarro unsuccessfully campaigned in the four most recent election cycles to represent south Los Angeles County residents in California's 43rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

All three defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy. Mr. Navarro is charged with 13 counts of wire fraud, 26 counts of falsification of records, and three counts of prohibited use of campaign funds. Ms. Asghari is charged with six counts of wire fraud. Mr. Abel is charged with two counts of wire fraud.

The indictment returned on Sept. 14 and unsealed Wednesday alleges that Mr. Navarro, from September 2017 through July 2020, illegally funneled campaign cash to himself. The indictment outlines a scheme in which Mr. Navarro allegedly made payments from his campaign to various individuals—including his mother and Mr. Abel—and then directed the transfer of cash back to himself for personal use.

Mr. Navarro also allegedly used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including trips to Las Vegas and wine country, as well as two criminal defense attorneys. According to the indictment, Mr. Navarro later falsely reported these expenditures as campaign expenses to the Federal Election Commission.

Federal prosecutors contend that Ms. Asghari and Mr. Abel concealed Mr. Navarro's misdirection of campaign funds by frequently cashing the checks rather than depositing them into their personal bank accounts. If they deposited the check, they often withdrew the funds shortly thereafter to share with Mr. Navarro, the indictment alleges.

In total, from December 2017 to June 2020, Mr. Abel and Ms. Asghari allegedly received $49,260 and $58,625, respectively, from Mr. Navarro's campaign, according to checks he wrote or caused to be written to them. According to the indictment, Ms. Asghari also created a shell company to facilitate her receipt of these campaign payments and transfers back to Mr. Navarro and his own shell company.

The indictment alleges that from January 2018 through July 1, 2020, Mr. Navarro deposited over $100,000 in cash into his personal accounts, even though he had no other source of income aside from the campaign funds, and that he frequently made deposits after Mr. Abel or Ms. Asghari cashed campaign checks.

Mr. Navarro also allegedly 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 U.S. Attorney's Office.

If convicted, Mr. Navarro, Ms. Asghari and Mr. Abel would face up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy count and up to 20 years for each wire fraud count in which they were charged. Mr. Navarro also would face up to 20 years in prison for each falsification of records count and up to five years for each count of prohibited use of campaign contributions, prosecutors noted.