The brothers of a Mexican fugitive, who is seeking a pardon so he can return to the US after skipping bail in Iowa more than 17 years ago, have been identified as major donors to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, The New York Times reported Monday.
Mexican casino mogul Juan José Rojas Cardona, also known as Pepe, fled from the US in 1994 as he sought to appeal a five-year sentence for fraud charges in Iowa.
Last year, one of Pepe Cardona's brothers, Carlos Rojas Cardona, organized for a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party to seek a pardon from the Iowa governor for his sibling, so he could return to the US, Iowa prosecutors told The Times. The attempt failed.
Later in 2011, Carlos and another Chicago-based brother, Alberto Rojas Cardona, started fundraising for the Obama re-election campaign, despite not having any apparent history of political involvement.
The two Chicago brothers each gave the maximum $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, their Tennessee-based sister Leticia Rojas Cardona donated $13,000 to the national committee and another relative living in Illinois gave $12,600, The Times reported, citing records. All up, more than $200,000 was raised by the family.
After initially telling The Times on Monday that they were unaware of the link between the Cardona brothers and their fugitive brother in Mexico, Obama campaign officials said they would refund all of the money raised by the family.
"On the basis of the questions that have been raised, we will return the contributions from these individuals and from any other donors they brought to the campaign," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Regardless of the family's intentions, the president does not have the power to pardon Pepe Cardona for state crimes. Iowa attorney, Janet Lyness, told The Times there was still an outstanding warrant for Cardona's arrest on a probation violation charge.
Carlos and Alberto Cardona could not be contacted, but Sarah Westall of Minnesota -- the wife of another Cardona brother, Gabriel -- told the newspaper that the family raised funds for Obama because they wanted to help the Latino community.
"I understand that it looks real bad," she said. "But the rest of the family are really good people. Pepe is actually a good person too."
US diplomatic cables, released by WikiLeaks in 2009, said Pepe Cardona was believed to have illegally delivered $5 million to Mexican politicians in 2006 and organized the assassination of a business rival.