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Dumanis Wrote Letter For Mexican Donor’s Relative

Evening Edition

Aired 6/3/14

A lawyer for a wealthy Mexican businessman accused of making illegal campaign donations asked a federal judge Monday to let him release a letter that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis wrote on behalf of a relative of the foreign national.


Court Hearing Transcript

Court Hearing Transcript

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Special Feature Dirty Money

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

A lawyer for a wealthy Mexican businessman accused of making illegal campaign donations asked a federal judge Monday to let him release a letter that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis wrote on behalf of a relative of the foreign national.

Knut Johnson, who represents Jose Susumo Azano, told the judge that reporters were asking him for a copy of the letter Dumanis wrote to the University of San Diego on behalf of Azano’s relative.

Because much of the evidence in the federal case is sealed, Johnson wanted permission to make it public.

Judge Michael Anello denied the request after hearing arguments about the nature and purpose of the letter that was sent from Dumanis to USD President Mary Lyons. Written on district attorney letterhead, it recommended the university accept Azano’s relative as a student.

KPBS has confirmed that the letter, written Sept. 28, 2012, was on behalf of Azano’s son, Edward Susumo Azano. USD records show the son attended the university in 2013 from January to December.

The hearing in federal court came the day before Dumanis faces a re-election vote on Tuesday. She is being challenged by attorney Bob Brewer and former prosecutor Terri Wyatt. Dumanis can avoid a runoff in November if she receives more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday.

Attempts to reach her Tuesday about the letter and the court hearing were unsuccessful.

Brewer was in federal court for Monday's hearing and, representing himself, asked the judge to make the letter public because he said it was important information for voters to know. He also said he has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to get the letter, which he said his campaign learned of through "rumors" on Friday.

A federal prosecutor opposed releasing the letter for Azano’s relative at Monday’s court hearing.

Judge Anello listened to the arguments but declined to make the letter public. He said he didn't want to get "involved at the eleventh hour in some election," preferring to stick to the reason evidence in the case has been sealed under his protective order.

"I don't think it's appropriate for me to look at it in terms of an election," Anello said.

Johnson said outside of court that he is backing Brewer for district attorney and has supported Dumanis in the past. In 2013, Johnson made three donations to Brewer totaling $950, according to a campaign finance database compiled by inewsource, a media partner of KPBS.

Prosecutors have said that Azano, who cannot contribute to U.S. political campaigns as a foreign national, illegally donated $600,000 to San Diego politicians, including Dumanis when she made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2012. He has pleaded not guilty.

Others have also been charged in federal court. The complaints do not name targets of the donations but charges against three other men describe a $100,000 payment in May 2012 and other transactions that match a group supporting Dumanis' bid for mayor. "San Diegans for Bonnie Dumanis for Mayor 2012" received $100,000 from a company that lists Azano as its chief executive.

Dumanis, who finished fourth in the June 2012 mayoral primary, told the Associated Press earlier this year that the contribution had "nothing to do with me or my campaign." She said she remembered little from a meeting with Azano at his Coronado house early in her campaign except that he spoke at length about his collection of fancy cars.

"No promises were asked for, nothing was asked for, and if it had been asked for, I would have kicked him to the curb," Dumanis said.

In public comments since the case involving Azano broke in January, Dumanis has never said she wrote a letter on behalf of the Mexican businessman's son.

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Avatar for user 'ThomasDeSoto'

ThomasDeSoto | June 2, 2014 at 7:11 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Great reporting Amita Sharma, your professionalism, integrity and service to your community is greatly appreciated and respected by all of us here in San Diego. Bless you and your family for the truth that you continually provide each night on PBS. Bravo!!!!

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Avatar for user 'tkleff'

tkleff | June 2, 2014 at 9:25 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

It's an astonishing story, with Nixon-esque overtones. The sitting District Attorney claimed no knowledge of the $200,000 donation -- despite a CityBeat story on the issue two weeks before the Mayoral primary. That's absurd (see,

Then, she proclaims "No promises were asked for, nothing was asked for, adn if it had been asked for I would have kicked him [Azano-the illegal Mexican National donor] to the curb." Now we learn, there was something substantial asked for: Azano asked Dumanis to write him a letter of recommendation to the local law school.

Full stop.

I'm a prosecutor. I went to law school. Letters of recommendation are fretted over by every law school applicant. Your learn in this process to seek those who know you personally, and those who can speak from personal experience about your character. Moreover, I've written recommendation letters for law clerks that have worked for me. This is not some perfunctory letter without substance. You are vouching for the applicant's character, and placing your character on the line in doing so.

This applicant -- the son of a tycoon billionaire -- magically got the sitting district attorney, the chief law enforcement officer of the county to vouch for his bona fides. That's an incredibly important endorsement of a law school candidate. That letter has incredible value. Moreover, when the law school committee sees that endorsement, they will stand up and take notice as they should.

So, Dumanis only has two potential explanations, both of which are painful: 1) She didn't know the candidate at all, but wrote him a letter -- on official stationary no less, an act that violates ethics, because you're now using a public office's authority and power, to further a personal recommendation -- that assisted in him getting into law school. That's intolerable. or 2) She knew him well, and knew the family well, but simply lied about the relationship (which, in turn, furthered a cover-up of an illegal campaign finance scheme).

The primary vote is tomorrow. I simply don't see how Dumanis survives this one. . . but, every vote will count. Please go vote; enough is enough.

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Avatar for user 'ThatwouldBTelling'

ThatwouldBTelling | June 2, 2014 at 10:01 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

It seems there are (at least) a couple things missing from this story. Most important is, why is Azano trying to get this letter released, and why now? Yes, his lawyer stated that reporters would like to see it, but so what? How does the release of this letter benefit his client? Second, how did the reporter confirm the letter was on behalf of Azano's son?

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | June 3, 2014 at 7:18 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

why isn't Jose Susumo Azano, locked up for interfering with our system?

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Avatar for user 'laplayaheritage'

laplayaheritage | June 4, 2014 at 11:34 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Susumo Azano apparently promoted Dumanis on both sides of the border
Video shows Tijuana billboards advertising DA's mayoral bid. By Kelly Davis

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Avatar for user 'wldflwr'

wldflwr | June 5, 2014 at 5:28 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

"No promises were asked for, nothing was asked for, and if it had been asked for, I would have kicked him to the curb," Dumanis said.
EXCEPT FOR THAT LETTER! What more has she forgotten about?

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Avatar for user 'wldflwr'

wldflwr | June 8, 2014 at 12:58 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Did Azano leak this to news media? If so, why, would Azano want this to get out?

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