DA Expected to Testify in Illegal Campaign Contribution Case

By Ana Gomez Salcido

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, who is facing federal charges of illegal contributions into San Diego mayoral campaigns, including for Dumanis’ run in 2012, as well as for former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Azano Matsura’s defense lawyer, Michael Wynne, has confirmed that subpoenas to testify in the trial, have been issued for Dumanis and  Filner, as well as for Congressman Juan Vargas,
and local developer Doug Manchester.

“I don’t know if the subpoenas have been served but they have been issued,” Wynne said after court this Wednesday, August 10.

Dumanis and Filner have been mentioned throughout the ongoing trial, including by witnesses and by the defense lawyers, during the trial that started last week at the San Diego Federal Courthouse downtown. Both are expected to testify on Monday, August 15.

Azano Matsura was initially arrested at his Coronado home in February 2014 and charged with one felony charge of illegal contribution to a political campaign in the United States. Although Azano maintained several residences in the US, he is a Mexican national. According to federal law, it is illegal for a foreign national to donate to political campaigns in the United States.

In August 2014, a federal grand jury issued a new indictment against Azano Matsura and several alleged co-conspirators; Ravneet Singh, his Washington, D.C.-based campaign-services company ElectionMall Inc., and San Diego political consultant Marco Polo Cortes, detailing 26 counts of various campaign-finance, falsification of records, bribery, and gun charges.

On March 4th 2016, the prosecution widened its scope to include Susumo Azano’s son, Edward Susumo Azano Hester, 24, as a defendant.

The defendants are part of the on-going federal trial being handled by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Anello.

Two others involved in the case have already pleaded guilty, including former San Diego Police Detective Ernesto Encinas, and Marc Chase, former owner of a luxury car dealership in La Jolla, who admitted that he conspired with Azano Matsura, Singh, Encinas and Cortes to make several illegal campaign contributions in connection with various campaigns for elective office during the 2012 primary and general election cycles.

Last week at trial, the focus was on alleged financial support from the defendants to Dumanis mayoral campaign in 2012. Former ElectionMall employee Aaron Ronshein testified that he worked for ElectionMall from June 2005 to December 2012.

Ronshein described services provided to Dumanis’ mayoral campaign in 2012 that included a website and ads on Google and Facebook.Prosecutors presented an invoice for $75,000 from eSolutions R&D Lab, LCC, an ElectionMall LCC owned company, and billed to Broadlink, S.A de C.V in Mexico, owned by Azano, that included a description of Online Outreach for Betty Boop – a nickname that Ronshein explained was used for Bonnie Dumanis.

Prosecutors also presented a bank statement from ElectionMall that included a wire transfer of $75,000 from the Broadlink company.

This week at trial, the focus was on alleged support from the defendants to Filner mayoral campaign in 2012.

Bill Wachob, a La Jolla political media consultant who has worked for Filner’s campaigns since 1991, was one of the witnesses on Wednesday, August 10. According to Wachob, he set up an independent expenditure committee after the primary election in June 2012, to be able to solicit unlimited donations for media advertisement for Filner’s mayoral campaign.

Wachob said on the stand that, after talking with a lawyer, he created the independent expenditure committee named San Diegans in Support of Bob Filner for Mayor in 2012 to be able to collect unlimited contributions from companies and individuals.

Wachob admitted in court that he interacted with Encinas and Cortes to seek donations for Filner’s mayoral campaign intended for media ads, including TV and radio.

Prosecutors presented a $120,000 check that Wachob admitted receiving personally from Cortes that was issued by a company named South Beach Acquisitions, and that Cortes said to him that it was one of Encinas’ clients.

Wachob said that he thought the check came from a legal source and even sent a thank you note to the company’s address stated in the check closer to the ending of Filner’s successful November 2012 campaign, but that the letter was sent back because it was a wrong address.

Dumanis and Filner are expected to testify about their interactions with Azano, and as to their knowledge of the source of campaign donations made to their respective campaigns.

Dumias has admitted to meeting with Azano at his home in Coronado, and it was also revealed she met with Azano and Sheriff Bill Gore at the Sheriff’s office. Dumanis has also admitted to writing a letter of recommendation in September 2012 for Azano’s son, Edward Susumo Azano Hester, during his 2012 admissions application to the University of San Diego, even though she had never met the student. Dumanis maintains she signed the letter at the request of Ernie Encinas, not Azano.

Bob Filner has also admitted to meeting with Azano at his home in Coronado along with two principals of a Dubai-based development company that has worked on billion-dollar projects with several Middle Eastern governments. A defense attorney for Azano claims the case against his client stems from an investigation that was already underway targeting Filner.

In total, Azano is accused of funneling more than $600,000 in contributions and services to the campaigns of Dumanis and Filner.

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