The Morning Report
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A new court document filed in the campaign finance scandal provides a new window into the investigation of Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura – as well as some kicky nicknames that are kind of hard to keep straight.
The complaint filed Tuesday recaps what charges Azano and co. face: Azano is accused of making illegal campaign donations – more than half a million dollars all together – to a handful of candidates during local elections in 2012. He allegedly did so through a number of underreported channels and with the help of associates Ernesto Encinas, Ravneet Singh and Marco Polo Cortes.
READ MORE: The Campaign Finance Scandal Just Got Real
Singh, Cortes, Singh’s company and Azano are all considered “co-conspirators” in the federal court filing. It’s noted throughout that Encinas and luxury car dealer Marc Chase (we’ll get to him) are both charged in other cases. Both have already pleaded guilty.
Azano pleaded not guilty to the first charge brought against him. He hasn’t yet entered a plea for the new charges.
Reading through the indictment can make your eyes glaze over if you don’t know who the code names refer to. Let’s clear up who’s who and what’s what in the ongoing scandal. (A reminder: None of the candidates entangled in the scandal has been charged with a crime or accused of any wrongdoing.)
Mr. A; Mr. Lambo: This is Azano, the guy at the center of the scandal.
Foreign national: Also Azano. This is more of a term than a cool nickname. It’s simply saying Azano was a Mexican citizen, who had no business donating to U.S. political campaigns.
Straw donor: Another neat term you can throw around. This refers to luxury car dealership owner Marc Chase, for example, who acted as sort-of a funnel for Azano’s donations, prosecutors say. According to the indictment, Azano “would provide these straw donors with money up front, or reimburse them later, for donations they made on his behalf … At Jose Susumo Azano Matsura’s direction, Marc Chase would write checks to political party and independent expenditure committees that Jose Susumo Azano Matsura knew would support his candidates of choice.” Chase owns Symbolic Motor Cars in La Jolla.
ElectionMall Inc.: Ravneet Singh’s company. Azano allegedly used this as a method to give “in-kind” donations to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ failed mayoral bid, providing social media services during her campaign. A February 2012 email mentioned in the indictment included an attached invoice “that reflected $75,000 for ‘promot[ing]’ online outreach in support of Candidate 1.”
Candidate 1: Dumanis. We keep learning more about just how well she knew Azano, from “forgotten” meetings to her letter of recommendation for Azano’s son. She received over $200,000 in contributions to her campaign, when you include donations to committees supporting her and in-kind, off-the-books donations.
Candidate 2: Rep. Juan Vargas. The new revelation in Tuesday’s filing is that Azano allegedly met with Vargas for dinner in downtown San Diego on September 17, 2012. Azano is alleged to have funneled $30,000 in support to the DCCC to support his election.
Candidate 3: Bob Filner. It’s alleged he received over $300,000 in contributions to an independent committee supporting his mayoral election or in off-the-books services for his campaign.
Candidate 4: Nathan Fletcher. Fletcher never received any donations. Tuesday’s indictment says his associate was approached to gauge interest, but spells out Fletcher himself knew nothing of the offer.
Betty boo: Dumanis again. The indictment details Azano’s alleged in-kind donations to her campaign, including a March 13, 2012, email regarding ElectionMall’s services: “Enclosed is the invoice for the betty boo project for 100k it was originally 75 but Mr Singh explained the need for the additional 25 during his last visit to San Diego and Mr A verbally agreed [sic].” Do you think this is who they meant?