Accused Card Room Owners Donated Thousands to Local Campaigns, Parties

Campaign records show two card room owners accused of federal crimes donated thousands of dollars to San Diego and Chula Vista politicians.

By Andie Adams and Wendy Fry

Two card room owners indicted in what the U.S. Attorney's office calls the largest illegal gambling prosecution in recent San Diego County memory have donated thousands of dollars to local politicians, according to campaign records.

Harvey Souza, the owner of Chula Vista’s Seven Mile Casino, and Naseem “Nick” Salem, the owner of the San Diego's Palomar Card Club, are two of 25 people facing federal gambling charges after agents on Wednesday raided both card rooms. Souza was arrested by the FBI at his Bonita home.

According to a federal indictment, Souza and Salem are accused of failing to maintain a reasonably designed anti-money laundering program from 2012 to last month. The grand jury alleges they and their businesses failed to track who won more than $10,000 a day and did not verify customer identification.

According to records from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), both men have contributed thousands of dollars to local politicians and parties. Since 2012, Souza has given $5,400 to State Senator Isadore Hall III (D-35th) this year, $1,000 to U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) in 2014, and $3,000 to the San Diego County Democratic Party in 2012.

In the past three years, Salem has contributed $1,000 to the San Diego County Republican Central Committee in 2014, $250 to Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio in 2013, another $6,000 to the San Diego County Republican Central Committee in 2012 and $2,500 to U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) in 2012, according to the CRP data.

NBC 7 has reached out to elected officials who received contributions from the two men.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s campaign responded, saying he received about $1,350 from Souza and his wife in 2013 and 2014. Campaign officials said because the campaigns are over and the account is closed, the money cannot be returned.
However, the campaign will return $125 donated this year by the general manager of Seven Mile Casino, David Jocis, officials say. Jocis is not among those accused in the investigation, and employees at the casino say none of the other co-defendants are associated with the card room.

The business sent NBC 7 this statement: "Seven Mile Casino, owned and operated by Harvey Souza and his family, have worked tirelessly for the past 70 years to build upon their great-grandfather’s legacy and comply with the evolving regulations regarding card rooms across the state. As a family and as a business, they are very much invested in the community of Chula Vista and the industry. We look forward to working with the California Bureau of Gambling Control to resolve all issues."

According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the alleged illegal gambling operation laundered about $10 million in gambling proceeds through the Chula Vista and San Diego card rooms.

Twenty-one people have been arrested in the investigation, and warrants have been issued for the other defendants.