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Mexican Businessman Blames Sempra For Federal Campaign Finance Probe

Aired 7/31/14 on KPBS News.

Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, a Mexican billionaire, is accused of illegally contributing more than $600,000 to San Diego campaigns using straw donors. Foreign nationals are not allowed to donate to U.S. political campaigns.

A Mexican billionaire accused of illegally contributing more than $600,000 to San Diego political campaigns using straw donors says energy giant Sempra is behind his legal problems.

Jose Susumo Azano Matsura also contends a retired San Diego police officer manipulated him into the finance scheme.

Credit: 10News

Jose Susumo Azano Matsura speaks to 10News during a 2011 interview.

Special Feature Dirty Money

All of the background information on campaign contributions illegally funneled from a wealthy Mexican businessman to local candidates.

In federal court papers filed this week, Azano argued that Sempra is angry with him for financially backing a landowner involved in a property dispute with the company in Mexico.

Azano alleges that he became the subject of an inquiry by San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in 2011 soon after Sempra’s lawyers asked federal prosecutors to do so.

“It gives — at the very least — the appearance that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is acting on behalf of Sempra against Sempra’s perceived antagonist,” Azano’s lawyer, Knut Johnson, wrote in his legal filing.

Johnson also wants the government to reveal why Duffy has recused herself from the case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Sempra both declined comment.

In court papers, Johnson says Azano also blames retired police Detective Ernest "Ernie" Encinas for roping him into giving to the 2012 mayoral campaign of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Azano is also accused of illegally giving to the mayoral campaign of Bob Filner and to Juan Vargas’ congressional effort.

Prosecutors say Encinas, car dealership owner Marc Chase, lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes and campaign web services provider Ravneet Singh helped Azano steer donations to the candidates. Singh and Cortes have pleaded not guilty.

In the court filings, Azano says he expressed concern for police widows and asked Encinas to whom he could give $100,000 to help them. Azano alleges Encinas instead advised him to contribute to a “friend” running for political office who would help the widows.

Encinas later told the FBI that Azano gave to Dumanis’ mayoral bid “because of me. Bonnie is a friend of mine,” according to the court papers.

It is illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a political campaign in the United States.

Azano has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

Encinas has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and filing a false tax return. Car dealership owner Chase has also admitted to serving as a straw donor for Azano. But the Mexican businessman said the money he gave to Chase was meant for an ownership interest in his dealership, according to his attorney's court filings this week.

In the court papers, Azano also backed up Dumanis’ claim that she wrote a letter of recommendation for his son to gain admission at the University of San Diego at the request of Encinas.

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