The Morning Report
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Nearly a month passed from when federal prosecutors first announced charges in a wide-ranging campaign finance scandal early last year and when they arrested José Susumo Azano Matsura, the wealthy Mexican businessman at the center of the case.
During that period, Azano alleges in a new court filing, the feds sent him a message: Leave the country.
“A person who was at that time acting undercover on behalf on the government informed Mr. Azano, through a third person that he should flee from the United States,” the court filing said.
The claim that the federal government told Azano he should attempt to escape prosecution is only the latest wild accusation in a case that has had too many to count. The U.S. attorney’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Azano’s claim.
Azano is charged with illegally funneling more than a half-million dollars to campaigns supporting prominent San Diego politicians between 2011 and 2012, including District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former Mayor Bob Filner. Azano, who owns two homes in Coronado, is a Mexican citizen. Foreigners aren’t allowed to donate to U.S. campaigns.
Azano has pleaded not guilty in the case. His attorney said in the filing that prosecutors have provided no evidence that Azano sought or received any benefit from San Diego politicians.
Prosecutors have said that Azano wanted to develop a “Miami West” along the downtown San Diego bay. But our wide-ranging investigation of Azano found a more likely motive: that Azano became interested in San Diego politics as a last-ditch effort to attract local politicians to his side in his long-running land dispute in Mexico with San Diego’s Sempra Energy. You can read our three-part series on the case here.
Azano’s court filing comes in advance of a Tuesday afternoon hearing where he hopes to get his $5 million bail cut in half. Azano paid the bail soon after his arrest, but used one of his Coronado homes as collateral. Azano needs the bail decreased to tap more of the equity in his house, the filing said.
We’ll update this post with any news that comes out of Azano’s bail hearing.
Update: Azano’s attorney Knut Johnson seemed to walk the claim back a bit during Tuesday’s hearing. U.S. Attorney Robert Huie called the idea that the federal government tried to get Azano to flee an “unsubstantiated allegation” and said Azano was misusing the bond hearing. “It’s a soap box,” Huie said.
Johnson replied: “We’re not saying that someone acting on behalf of the United States (government) told him to flee, but someone with connections to the United States asked him to flee. If I worded that awkwardly, my apologies.”