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Dumanis Wrote Letter For Mexican Donor’s Relative

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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.

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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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