An East Bay real estate developer was found guilty on Tuesday of funneling tens of thousands of illegal contributions to the congressional campaigns of U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore).
After an eight-day trial in federal court in Oakland, a jury found James Tong, 74, of Fremont, guilty of two counts of making contributions to a federal campaign in the name of other individuals to Swalwell's campaigns in 2012, when he was first elected, and 2014.
Swalwell, a former Alameda County prosecutor and Dublin City Council member, sought the 2020 Democratic nomination for president but in July he became the first Democrat to drop out of the presidential race amid weak fundraising and polling numbers.
Federal prosecutors said evidence at Tong's trial indicates that in 2012 and 2013 he used two primary straw donors as recruiters for his scheme.
According to prosecutors, Tong gave thousands of dollars in cash to his chosen middlemen and instructed them to recruit straw donors to write checks to Swalwell.
Prosecutors said Tong induced the individuals to distribute cash in the community to be donated to the initial and re-election campaigns of Swalwell.
They said the network of straw donors included dozens of conduits who agreed to write checks in exchange for a commensurate amount of cash sourced from Tong.
Swalwell said he was unaware of Tong's illegal contribution scheme and testified against Tong at his trial, according to a spokesman for his office.
"Justice was served for a campaign supporter of mine who violated the law," Swalwell said in a statement.
"From the moment I was notified that my campaign was a victim of fraud, I assisted the FBI to obtain the records they needed to conduct their investigation," he said. "All the donations to my campaign in this case were subsequently donated to local charities."
Tong is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar on Dec. 13.
He faces up to four years in federal prison and fines for the amount of the illegal campaign contributions.
In 2016, Tong pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act by grading a Dublin development in a way that harmed the habitat of a threatened species, the California tiger salamander.
He was ordered to pay $1 million in conservation funds and set aside 107 acres of land to protect endangered species.