Mexican Billionaire Convicted in Campaign Finance Trial - NBC 7 San Diego

Mexican Billionaire Convicted in Campaign Finance Trial

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    Mexican Billionaire Convicted in Campaign Finance Trial

    Jose Susumo Azano and two others were convicted of funneling money into local campaigns. NBC 7's Wendy Fry has more. (Published Friday, Sept. 9, 2016)

    A billionaire businessman from Mexico was convicted Friday on multiple counts of making illegal campaign contributions of more $500,000 in San Diego local elections.

    Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, 51, of Guadalajara, Mexico, was convicted of more than 30 charges including conspiracy, campaign finance violations, falsification of records and bribery.

    According to federal law, it is illegal for a foreign national to donate to political campaigns in the U.S.

    According to court documents, Azano's motive was to develop San Diego's waterfront into a Miami-of-the-West, with condos and a high-end hotel.

    Azano's attorney, Michael Wynne, told reporters outside court that he was "very disappointed" with the verdicts and predicted a "win on appeal," even if the case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Ravneet Singh, 44, of Naperville, Illinois, owner of the campaign services company known as ElectionMall Inc., was convicted of four counts including one count of conspiracy, one count of a donation by a foreign national over $25,000 and two counts of falsification of records. Singh’s defense attorney, Mike Lipman, said outside federal court that his client was convicted of conspiracy and election tampering.

    "Look, you respect the jury’s verdict. It’s not necessarily something I agree with. And it’s the beginning of the process. We have post-trial motions. We have appellate issues, and we have sentencing to deal with. And we’ll deal with it. All of it," Lipman told NBC 7.

    San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes, 46, of San Diego was acquitted of four counts, mistrial on three others.

    The businessman’s son Edward Susumo Azano Hester, 24, of San Diego, was convicted of felony charges associated with a series of illegal campaign contributions and acquitted on several charges related to the falsification of campaign donation records according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Jurors could not reach a verdict on several other charges against Hester.

    Earlier this month, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis testified that she had two meetings with Azano.

    Prosecutors allege Azano contributed to Dumanis' failed mayoral campaign along with campaigns for former Mayor Bob Filner and other candidates.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Schopler told jurors that Azano got his son and others to recruit straw donors to contribute to the Dumanis campaign, then Azano reimbursed the donors.

    Dumanis described her first meeting with Azano as a meet-and-greet at the businessman's home in Coronado and the second meeting happened at San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore's house.

    Azano's attorney Michale Wynne said Dumanis' testimony supported their argument that former San Diego Police Detective Ernie Encinas wanted the meetings to happen to help further his own security businesses.  Encinas has pleaded guilty.

    Prosecutors list 20 instances in which campaign finance records were falsified to send money from Azano to three candidates in local elections.

    The businessman was also charged with illegally possessing a firearm, a black Sig Sauer P225 semi-automatic pistol.

    Prosecutors said the jury could not reach a verdict on the firearm charge so a mistrial was declared. A status hearing on that count will be held in November.

    Ed. Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the verdict for Ravneet Singh. We have corrected the report and regret the error.