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Witness Says Azano’s San Diego Mayoral Campaign Donations For Dumanis Seemed ‘Fishy’

Photo by Katie Schoolov

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis speaks to the media, Aug. 20, 2013.

A San Diego political consultant testified Wednesday that he felt pressure from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ “campaign organization” to find a way to get a large sum of a Mexican tycoon’s illegal money into her war chest for her 2012 mayoral run.

The testimony came in the trial of Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, who is accused of unlawfully channeling nearly $600,000 to San Diego candidates.

Political adviser John Wainio told the jury in federal court that he was immediately suspicious when Azano employee Ernie Encinas approached him in early 2012 and told Wainio he could line up a six figure independent expenditure for Dumanis’ mayoral bid from a Mexican billionaire.

Wainio said Encinas was looking for a political action committee (PAC) to park the money.

He said the amount was unprecedented for a San Diego mayoral campaign and he was concerned about the donor’s nationality. The law bars foreign citizens from giving to U.S. campaigns.

“It seemed fishy to me,” Wainio testified.

But he did pass along the request to the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association to see if the group’s PAC wanted the money. The union had endorsed Dumanis for mayor.

In an email to the union’s head, Wainio wrote that Encinas “was probably referred by Bonnie’s campaign.” The DA union ultimately declined the money.

Wainio said he then suggested Encinas open an independent expenditure committee himself.

Wainio also testified that he asked Dumanis in a phone call whether Azano had a green card.

“She didn’t say anything,” Wainio said. “She gave me no determination one way or another and there was a long silence.”

He said that silence made him more resolute.

“It moved me from being suspicious and cautious to making a firm determination that I was not going to have anything to do with it,” he said.

But Wainio also told the jury that there was a push to find a destination for Azano’s money.

“I was feeling some pressure to provide them some kind of solution from the campaign organization,” he said.

Wainio testified that San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who was a councilman and Dumanis supporter at the time, phoned him in 2012 about where the money could be placed.

Outside the courtroom, Wainio sought to clarify his testimony saying the pressure he described on the stand did not come from Faulconer. A spokesman for Faulconer said the mayor had no knowledge of “this foreign money scheme.”

Azano is accused of illegally donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to political action committees supporting San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner in 2012. Prosecutors say Azano wanted their support for a plan to develop San Diego's waterfront into what he called "Miami West," complete with a yacht marina and five star hotels.

"The hitch was he thought San Diego was being held back by trailer park losers who had a small town mentality," federal prosecutor Andrew Schopler said in court last week.

Schopler said Azano needed someone in the mayor's office or a mayor who could grease the wheels.

On Azano's giving to the mayoral campaigns, Schopler said of Azano, "He never went to the politicians. They came to him."

Both Dumanis and Filner have said they were unaware of the donations. Both do not appear on the prosecutors' witness list but could still be called to the stand. Azano's son is also on trial for his connections to the case. Dumanis wrote him a college letter of recommendation in 2012.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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