Top Obama donor accused of fraud

Another of President Obama’s big fundraisers has gotten into some legal trouble, as reported by CBS News:

The New York donor, Abake Assongba, and her husband contributed more than $50,000 to Obama’s re-election effort this year, federal records show. But Assongba is also fending off a civil court case in Florida, where she’s accused of thieving more than $650,000 to help build a multimillion-dollar home in the state — a charge her husband denies.

[…] Assongba and her husband, Anthony J.W. DeRosa, run a charity called Abake’s Foundation that distributes school supplies and food in Benin, Africa. A photo posted on Assongba’s Facebook page shows the couple standing next to Obama at a May 2010 fundraiser.

In one Florida case, which is still ongoing, Swiss businessman Klaus-Werner Pusch accused Assongba in 2009 of engaging him in an email scam — then using the money to buy a multimillion-dollar home, the Post reported. The suit alleges Assongba impersonated a bank official to do it. Pusch referred the AP’s questions to his attorney, who did not immediately return requests seeking comment Sunday.

Meanwhile, Assongba has left a trail of debts, with a former landlord demanding in court more than $10,000 in back rent and damages for a previous apartment. She was also evicted in 2004 after owing $5,000 in rent, records show.

Assongba’s husband denied all these charges, and reported her current status as “very perturbed.”  The legal case has yet to play out, but political embarrassment doesn’t always wait for the conclusion of court proceedings.

How much money might Obama be called upon to return, if this case becomes an ongoing political embarrassment for him?

Assongba has given more than $70,000 to Democratic candidates in recent years, an AP review of Federal Election Commission data shows. Her larger contributions include $35,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between Obama and the Democratic Party, and $15,000 to Democrats running for Congress. DeRosa also gave $15,000 to Obama’s victory fund in April 2011, records show.

This isn’t the first time a big Obama donor has run into trouble with the law.  In February, the Obama campaign returned $200,000 in donations from Carlos and Alberto Cardona, the brothers of fugitive Mexican casino magnate “Pepe” Cardona – who jumped bail on drug and fraud charges, and is “suspected of orchestrating the assassination of a business rival and making illegal campaign donations to Mexican officials,” according to the New York Times.  The Obama campaign’s “vetting” procedures somehow failed to notice that these big-bucks donors were the brothers of a federal fugitive, even though the State Department knew about Pepe’s colorful activities in Mexico as far back as 2009, and “the Cardona brothers, who have no prior history of political giving, appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the world of Democratic fund-raising,” according to party activists who spoke to the Times.

Then you’ve got Jon Corzine, whose $70,000 in personal donations were returned after $1.6 billion in customer funds mysteriously vanished in the final days of his company, MF Global.  In one recently uncovered instance, a cool $200 million magically migrated from a segregated customer account into a series of “house accounts,” and ended up covering a $175 million overdraft.  In Hollywood, a caper of that magnitude usually ends with Bruce Willis throwing Alan Rickman from the window of an exploding skyscraper.  In the real world, you get long oversight hearings, reams of contradictory testimony, and suddenly rancid political donations. 

Despite a remarkably energetic fund-raising schedule, Obama is far behind his billion-dollar war chest goal.  As Republican strategist Karl Rove recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, disappointed donors are contributing less than expected, while the Obama campaign is spending a huge amount of money on staff and fundraising.  The President’s campaign funding remains impressive, but he’s actually a good $30 million behind where George Bush was, at the same point in his 2004 re-election bid.  Returning big money from top donors who find their way into scandalous headlines has got to hurt.