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A wealthy Mexican businessman charged with illegally donating a half-million dollars to San Diego campaigns says he was set up.
In a wide-ranging new court filing, lawyers for Jose Susumo Azano Matsura blamed one of San Diego’s largest companies, Sempra Energy, for instigating criminal investigations against him and called the head of his private security detail the mastermind of the scheme to influence local politics. Azano claimed the federal government has acted with “misconduct, negligence and ineptitude” in the case against him.
It’s the first time Azano has given his perspective of what happened.
Here are the major takeaways from the filing.
It’s Sempra’s Fault
Azano’s explanation that Sempra is behind all his current troubles has roots in a dispute that started six years ago.
That was when he began financing a lawsuit in Mexico against the company on behalf of a rancher. Sempra was building a $1 billion liquefied natural gas plant north of Ensenada and the rancher sued, claiming the company stole his land (the plant has since been completed.)
The legal fight over the land is continuing in Mexico, and the rancher filed a similar case against Sempra in the U.S.
Some of the claims in the rancher’s lawsuit became part of a 2011 FBI investigation into whether Sempra violated U.S. laws against foreign corruption. During that investigation, lawyers for Sempra argued that federal agents should investigate Azano for various allegations that he bribed Mexican officials and tried to extort money from Sempra, according to FBI documents.
Within a few weeks of the federal government dropping its case against Sempra, U.S. officials began investigating Azano based on Sempra’s allegations, Azano said in Wednesday’s court filing. The filing further alleges that the FBI agent in charge of the investigation against Azano learned about him while leading the Sempra case, Sempra funneled an illegally obtained email chain involving Azano to federal investigators and government investigators got a search warrant to examine Azano’s offices based on Sempra’s allegations.
Azano also said in the Wednesday filing that agents from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have investigated him for years for alleged gun running, money laundering and arms dealing. Azano claims DHS and ICE agents patted down his young child and repeatedly harassed one of his pilots for incriminating information about Azano.
“Among other threats, the agents told the pilot that ‘you are refusing to cooperate and you will go down with [Mr.] Azano when he goes to the grand jury,’” the court filing says.
Azano, whose vast wealth comes from a Mexican security company that sells surveillance equipment, hasn’t been charged beyond the illegal donations.
It’s the Ex-Cop’s Fault
The whole reason he began donating to local political campaigns, Azano said, was because of his head of security, Ernesto Encinas.
Encinas was a former San Diego police detective who ran a security company for bars and clubs downtown. Encinas is longtime friends with San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Her 2012 mayoral bid was the first local campaign Azano gave money to. Here’s how that happened, according to Azano’s filing:
Encinas was aware that Mr. Azano was very generous and regularly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to worthy causes. Mr. Azano became concerned about police widows, and asked Encinas to whom he should donate $100,000 to benefit them; Encinas had a “better” idea: he told Mr. Azano to help the campaign of a “friend” running for political office who would help police widows. As Encinas later admitted to the FBI when asked why Mr. Azano donated to DA Dumanis: “Because of me. Bonnie is a friend of mine.” Encinas later explained that he thought she would help him in Encinas’s business in the Gas Lamp (sic) District.
Azano said Encinas was going around town claiming that his business was going to benefit because of the politicians he was supporting with Azano’s money. After another co-conspirator was arrested in the case, Azano claims the government got Encinas to wear a wire to try to implicate him, but Azano never admitted to violating the law.
Azano also said that Encinas directed yet another co-conspirator, a La Jolla luxury car dealer, to participate in the scheme. Azano says in the court filing that he bought part of the car dealer’s company. Azano further alleges that Encinas directed the car dealer to use that money for illegal campaign donations. Both Encinas and the car dealer have pleaded guilty in the case.
It’s Not the DA’s Fault
Dumanis has been the politician most closely linked with Azano. That’s because she did favors for him, including writing a college recommendation letter for his son, and she has made numerous misleading statements about their relationship. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing, though.
Azano said in the filing that Dumanis is innocent. He backed up her account that she wrote the recommendation letter for Azano’s son at Encinas’ request, and again blamed Encinas:
There is no evidence in the discovery that DA Dumanis ever did anything illegal, corrupt, or unethical. Other than meeting Mr. Azano, DA Dumanis had no relationship of any sort with him or his family. It bears noting that Encinas was able [to] deceive and manipulate her as well as others, including Mr. Azano.
What Azano Wants
The court filing is a request that the federal government provide Azano’s lawyers with more information about the evidence they have against Azano in the case.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy has recused herself from the prosecution and Azano wants to know why. He also wants more information about interactions between the government and Sempra, including with Bob Brewer, the attorney who represented Sempra in the 2011 foreign corrupt practices case. Brewer ended up running against Dumanis for district attorney earlier this year, and lost.
Azano also believes that the government wiretapped his U.S. and Mexican telephones and performed other electronic surveillance without revealing it to his attorneys.