UNION CITY -- Two Union City planning commissioners have been fined for laundering campaign contributions during the 2010 City Council race.

Gurnam "Gary" Singh and Jo Ann Lew violated state law when they contributed money to Singh's election committee in the name of other people, the Fair Political Practices Commission has ruled.

Singh and Lew, treasurer of the Gary Singh for City Council 2010 committee, waived their rights to a hearing and agreed to pay a $15,000 fine, the agency said in a ruling posted online Monday.

"These violations denied the public of information regarding the true source of Gary Singh's financial support, during the time when he was running for ... City Council," the agency stated in its ruling.

Gary Singh in 2010. (Jim Stevens/Staff file)
Gary Singh in 2010. (Jim Stevens/Staff file)

Singh, a Union City planning commissioner for the past eight years, lost his 2010 bid for City Council, finishing fourth with about 14.5 percent of the vote.

He declined to comment on the fine Tuesday, saying he was too busy at work to discuss it.

Lew, the Planning Commission's current chair, could not be reached for comment.

First-time candidates often make mistakes while running their campaigns, said Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci, adding that she could not comment on specific accusations because she had not yet seen the state agency's decision.

"I would never see Jo Ann doing something unethical because she always crosses the t's and dots the i's, and Gary is someone who plays by the rules, too," Dutra-Vernaci said. "I'll assume (the fine) is due to their inexperience."


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Singh, owner of Bay Star Auto Care in Union City, broke four campaign laws during his unsuccessful council bid, and Lew committed one violation, the state agency said.

Singh accepted a $600 campaign donation from real estate firm owner John Pappas in September 2010, a month after Singh and other Union City planning commissioners recommended rezoning Pappas' building at the Union Landing shopping center.

That violated a state law that forbids elected officials from accepting contributions within three months of casting a vote on a city matter involving the campaign donor.

Union City's council members then rezoned the building on Sept. 14, 2010 -- a day after Singh accepted Pappas' check.

No other Union City leaders are under investigation.

Pappas, who was not the subject of the investigation, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In May 2010, Singh also asked two customers each to write a $600 check to his election committee, rather than pay his auto body shop for services rendered, the Fair Political Practices Commission stated.

It also said that Lew and Singh accepted four donations totaling $2,100, even though no money was drawn from bank accounts belonging to the supposed donors whose names appeared on cashier's checks or money orders.

A Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, saying he is unable to speak on the matter until state commissioners decide next week whether to approve the fines.

It is the second time in as many months the state agency discovered illegal campaign contributions made to a Tri-City candidate.

A Fremont nonprofit group, the Wisdom Culture and Education Organization, was fined $25,000 for laundering campaign contributions to Steve Cho's failed Fremont mayoral bid in 2008. Cho was not accused of any wrongdoing.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.