The Mexican multi-millionaire accused of illegally contributing more than $600,000 to San Diego political campaigns is blaming a convicted former cop for orchestrating the scandal in which they are both implicated, according new court filings.
Jose Susumo Azano Matsura is suspected of giving illicit contributions to the campaigns of former Mayor Bob Filner, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas and other candidates. Prosecutors say Azano was trying to gain influence with local politicians to help develop a “Miami West” on San Diego’s bayfront.
However, Azano maintained his innocence in the motion filed Wednesday by his attorney Knut S. Johnson, which requests that prosecutors release evidence withheld by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office.
Johnson suspects that evidence could include phone calls and electronic surveillance intercepted by the government without the defense’s knowledge. A defense attorney confirmed in June that at least one wiretap was used to build a case against Azano and other defendants.
Wednesday’s motion alleges that Azano became embroiled in the finance scandal through his association with Ernesto Encinas, a 30-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department who provided security for Azano.
According to the court filing, Azano approached Encinas in 2012 to ask where he should donate $100,000 to help police widows.
Instead of recommending a foundation, Encinas told Azano to give the money to “a campaign of a ‘friend’ running for political office who would help police widows,” the motion states.
That “friend” turned out to be Dumanis who was running for San Diego mayor at the time.
The motion says before Encinas was charged in the affair, he became a confidential informant for the FBI and tried to get Azano to admit his part in the scandal while secretly recording him.
Johnson says during that recorded conversation, Azano repeatedly denied any involvement in illegal campaign contributions or other legal violations.
In March, Encinas pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S. and filing a false tax return.
The court documents discuss another defendant who has pleaded guilty in the case: Marc Chase, the owner of Symbolic Motor Cars.
Chase admitted in April to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions with cash paid to him by a foreign businessman.
In his plea agreement, Chase said he recruited employees, friends and family to donate $500 each to hide the source of the funds.
However, Wednesday’s filings allege that Chase manipulated Azano into buying 60 percent of Symbolic, so when Azano gave Chase a $380,000 check in Oct. 2012, he says he thought that money was going toward the car business.
Instead, Encinas instructed Chase to put part of that money into local campaigns, the motion says.
Azano also alleges that an old legal feud between he and Sempra Energy led to the current federal charges against him.
The energy company had gone head to head with an Ensenada landowner – backed by Azano – in civil cases, with Sempra naming Azano in a counter-suit against the Ensenada resident.
So when Sempra became the target of a U.S. Attorney investigation over foreign corrupt practices, prosecutors also set their sights on Azano.
The charges against the company were later dismissed "based on Sempra's investigation of itself," the motion says, and a former special agent in charge of the San Diego FBI became the chief of corporate security at Sempra.
Johnson says it appears that the government pursued Azano on behalf of the energy company.
As a Department of Homeland Security investigation progressed, Azano claims he, his family and his employees were harassed by “rogue” agents. That harassment included threats to his personal pilot, a pat down of Azano’s young child and extended border searches.
The suspect’s defense attorney has requested a federal court hearing on Aug. 25 to address these new court filings and allegations. Prosecutors say it could be September, at the earliest, before they file an updated complaint that lays out all his alleged fraud.
Azano remains under house arrest at his Coronado mansion.