District Attorney Says Recommendation Letter Not Public Business

The letter was written on official DA letterhead

The San Diego County District Attorney's office denied NBC 7's request, made under the state's public record law to produce a letter of recommendation Bonnie Dumanis wrote for the son of a foreign tycoon at the center of a campaign finance scandal. Read NBC 7's request here

Dumanis' office said the letter she wrote to the president of the University of San Diego recommending the admittance of Susumo Azano Jr. is not subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. Read the District Attorney's response here

Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, father of the subject of Dumanis' recommendation, faces federal criminal charges for allegedly funneling money into local politics, including Dumanis' failed bid for mayor in 2012. He is not a U.S. citizen, and it is illegal for foreign nationals to donate money into U.S. campaigns. He has entered a "not guilty" plea to the charges.

The letter was discussed in federal court on June 2. According to court transcripts from that hearing, it was sent on September 28, 2012 on official “Office of the District Attorney” letterhead. 

Dumanis has declined to discuss the letter, stating it is subject to an ongoing criminal probe. Previously, she said she barely knew the Mexican businessman multi-millionaire Azano. She has also said that she couldn't remember when they met and that she had no idea why he donated $200,000 to support her mayoral bid.

NBC 7 has also learned more about the origins of that letter. In an exclusive interview, Azano’s attorney claimed that neither his client nor his client’s son asked Dumanis to write that letter.

Attorney Knut Johnson also said Jose Azano did not know about the letter until it was produced to the defense as part of the federal criminal case against him.

Johnson told NBC 7 that Azano’s son, Edward, has never read the letter and does not have a copy of it. Johnson said Edward Susumo Azano was given a sealed copy of the letter, which he submitted to USD as part of his admissions packet.

“And those facts alone help exonerate (Jose Azano),” Johnson said.

Johnson also said his knowledge of the evidence in this case leads him to believe that Dumanis wrote the letter at the request of former San Diego Police Detective Ernesto Encinas.

In March, Encinas pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the election fraud case.

“The fact that (Azano) didn’t know about (the letter), and that someone (Encinas) is getting a public official to write a letter for one of his relatives without even telling him or showing his son the contents, we think shows his lack of knowledge about what other people were doing behind his back,” Johnson said about his client.

In expanding on its reason for denying the release of the controversial letter, "The letter you requested is not a 'public record' since it does not relate to the conduct of the public’s business," wrote Deputy District Attorney Brooke Tafreshi on June 13.

The District Attorney's office also cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Azano Jr.'s right to privacy in regards to the letter, as well as "a protective order in a pending federal litigation that includes this document."

Federal court Judge Michael Anello indicated June 2 that individuals not party to the federal proceedings against Azano are not prevented from releasing the letter.

The University of San Diego declined last week to provide NBC7 with a copy of the letter, also citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Deputy District Attorney Tafreshi first wrote NBC7 on June 12 stating the request for the single letter would require the DA's office to search through too many records to find it. NBC7's request, dated June 2, asked for the specific letter, and identified the specific date it was written as well as the parties to the correspondence.

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