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Volume Of Dumanis Donors Linked To Mexican Businessman Renews Questions About What DA Knew

Former San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announces she is releasing three videos from officer-involved shootings, May 6, 2016.
Nicholas McVicker
Former San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announces she is releasing three videos from officer-involved shootings, May 6, 2016.
Dumanis Donors Linked To Mexican Businessman Renews Questions
Volume Of Dumanis Donors Linked To Mexican Businessman Renews Questions About What DA Knew
Volume Of Dumanis Donors Linked To Mexican Businessman Renews Questions About What DA Knew GUEST: Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego County district Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has cast herself as a victim of a fundraising straight scheme by a Mexican mogul. They are on trial for trying to pump $600,000 into San Diego campaigns. Are investigative reporter Amita Sharma says document shows disguised giving to Dumanis. It raise questions about what she knew and should've known. Federal election law is written to ensure political races are decided by Americans or legal residents. US government says Mexican tycoon, Jose Susumo Azano Matsura skirted the lot to try to get Bonnie Dumanis elected as Mayor in 2012. A full 25% of the money Dumanis received came from Azano but never in his name. One donation coming from a straw donor is unacceptable. The fact that so many contributions corresponded with money that had been transferred from an outside source is a very alarming figure. The figure was even higher on a single day on December, 2011. That is the month prosecutors say Dumanis went to Azano house looking for crucial financing. The San Diego ethics commission records from a single day December 29, 2011. The review revealed more than 40% of the donations Dumanis received came from straw donors allegedly financed by Azano. It's not a good fact for Mr. Dumanis. It certainly would make a prosecutor question and investigate further how directly involved she was. In these types of contributions. Also on that same game -- day, an additional 14% came in from towing companies previously investigated for straw giving. The commission would not say whether the companies had been investigated for contributing that day. The timing of the towing company donations is curious. Whether it ends up being tied together -- will have to wait and see. Dumanis haven't -- hasn't been charged and she declined to speak to us for this story. She says her election is a stickler for the rules. I am the DA and I'm very careful and my campaign is very careful to make sure we don't cross any lines. Prosecutors say after the December meeting between Azano and Dumanis, he said he would raise $100,000 for her. He set up a political action committee through a shell company to place the money. One question hanging over the trial is what did Dumanis know of Azano mitigation status? It's illegal for a candidate take campaign donations from a foreign national. She should have known or least checked. Just by reputation alone, this individual is known as a successful businessman in Mexico. The first thing she has to ask herself, can he contribute to elections in the United States? John Wainio has testified he asked Dumanis on the phone in 2012 weather Azano had a green card. She was silent on the other and. That silence could have legal implications for Dumanis. There's a concept in the criminal law that if you are confronted with an allegation and you provide in response of silence -- you provide no response whatsoever -- that could be deemed an admission of knowledge. Dumanis changed her story. She first said she only met Azano once. , but the Sheriff testified Dumanis attended a meeting between him and Azano. Dumanis write a college letter of recommendation for Azano his son. The onus is on -- The law says you can't turn a blind eye to this evidence in front of you and say I didn't know. Former federal prosecutor says that is called conscious avoidance and it's illegal. That story from investigative reporter Amita Sharma. Welcome Amita . It's good to be here morning. Why did some of the people interviewed imply that if Bonnie Dumanis no Azano with a foreign national bash she should've known. The first is she's the District Attorney and she knows the rules. About affecting -- accepting donations from a foreign do -- donor because she prosecutes campaign violations. So due diligence is the main reason because she is a top law enforcement officer in San Diego County. That would presume she would ask the question of some month. The second reason is the fact that Azano is so well-known just across the border. He's a successful businessman. It would not have been hard for her to tease out that answer. And finally, she did meet with him twice and had a conference call with him about social media services for our campaign. She had the opportunity to ask him. Do we know who on her campaign staff in 2012 might have been in charge of determining if the donations she received complied with the law? The woman is Kelly [ name unknown ] who was in charge of fundraising in compliance. The law prohibits any candidate or staffer from soliciting, receiving or accepting a contribution from a foreign national. I think what some campaign experts would tell you, it's unrealistic to expect the campaign to investigate each and every donor to see if they are giving legally. This case is a bit different because raised on what prosecutors have said, Dumanis actually went to Azano house asking for crucial financing for her campaign . And then prosecutors say he got word to her that he would get her $100,000, which he did through an independent expenditure committee. So there is an assertion by a political consultant that Dumanis sent Azano employee to a pack controlled by the District Attorney Association to get his money. We thought the money was fishy. Wainio testified in court he asked Dumanis if Azano had a green card and got silence on the other and. Straw donors are people donating money given to them by someone who can't legally get to our campaign is all right? Yes. They are either ineligible to get because they don't have legal residency status. Or they have already exceeded contribution limits. But they still want to ensure more of their money gets into a campaign. Who are the alleged straw donors? There are several straw donors. They have not been prosecuted. One of them, Mark Chase has pleaded guilty. They just haven't been charged in the case. How did prosecutors find out about the scheme? I don't know that prosecutors have said this explicitly, but I have been told that Azano attracted law enforcement attention a while back. Because he was traveling in and out of round filled a lot with a large security detail. He was flying around the United States frequently and he was flying to the Middle East in a cause people to want to take a harder look at him to see if he was up to something. It was during the course about look that officials discovered Azano was meeting with local politicians like the former San Diego Mayor and Bonnie Dumanis. Bonnie Dumanis has been called to testify but since the responsibility is on the foreign national not to donate in elections, for the purpose of this particular prosecution, what does it matter what she knew? It does matter because there is some onus on her. It is a violation of election law if she knowingly accept contributions from a foreign donor about a green card. It would be interesting to see how the issue of her knowledge of his legal status is handled if she takes the stand. If she says she thought Azano had a green card, she will have to be asked why she thought that and whether she asked him directly. The defense would not be calling Dumanis if they thought she would hurt bash their case. They want her to say I didn't know him and he didn't know me. But how do you explain the meetings, a conference call about campaign social services, and the college letter she wrote for his son. It appears there is actually another letter she wrote. Harbor there is no information on it except that it exists. When can we expect the a, Dumanis to take the stand? Be met the prosecution might wrap up testimony today. She could take the stand as early as tomorrow or next week. I have been speaking with investigative reporter, Amita Sharma. Thank you so much.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has cast herself as a victim of an alleged fundraising scheme by Mexican business mogul Jose Susumo Azano Matsura.

“I am so angry about all this,” Dumanis said during an interview with U-T TV in early 2014. “If somebody did what they are alleged to do, they should be held accountable for what they have done.”

Azano and three others are on trial in federal court for conspiring to illegally pump nearly $600,000 into San Diego political campaigns, including the district attorney’s failed bid for mayor in 2012.

Prosecutors say Azano laundered the money through straw donors — people who give using another person’s money, which is against the law. He also used a company to funnel some of the money, they say.

Campaign disclosure documents also point to a high volume of disguised giving to Dumanis. The illegal donations renew questions about what the district attorney knew of Azano’s role and what she should have known.

Federal election law is written to ensure that political races are decided by U. S. citizens, or at least legal residents.

Prosecutors told jurors in the trial that started three weeks ago that a full 25 percent of the money Dumanis received during her run for mayor came from Azano but never in his name.

“One donation coming from a straw donor is unacceptable,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “The fact that so many contributions corresponded with money that had been transferred to the donors from an outside source is a very alarming figure.”

The figure was even higher on a single day in December 2011, the same month prosecutors have said Dumanis went to Azano’s house looking for “crucial financing.”

KPBS matched the initials of alleged straw donors contained in court documents with Dumanis’ campaign disclosures and San Diego Ethics Commission records. KPBS found that 26 of the 61 donations — or 43 percent of the contributions she received that day — were from straw givers allegedly financed by Azano. The donors included a gas station manager, a homemaker and a grandmother with dementia. All gave the maximum amount of $500.

“It’s not a good fact for Ms. Dumanis, that’s for sure,” said Rob Marasco, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego. “Straw donor after straw donor. It certainly would make a prosecutor question and investigate further how directly involved she was in these types of contributions.”

Also, on that same day — Dec. 29, 2011 — an additional 14 donations came into Dumanis’ campaign from people tied to towing companies that have been investigated by the San Diego Ethics Commission for straw giving. The commission would not say whether the companies had been investigated for donations made on that particular day.

Marasco called the timing of the towing companies’ contributions curious.

“Whether it ends up being tied together, we will have to wait and see,” he said.

Dumanis hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing in the case. She declined to speak to KPBS for this story. She said through a spokesman she won’t comment on a pending case.

But she has said her election staffers are sticklers for the rules.

”I am the DA,” Dumanis said in the 2014 U-T TV interview. “And I am very careful and my campaign team is very careful to make sure we don’t cross any lines.”

Dumanis has been subpoenaed as a witness in the case by Azano’s lawyer, who has said he wants her to testify that his client had nothing to do with her campaign.

Prosecutors have revealed that after Azano and Dumanis had that meeting in December, the businessman sent word to the district attorney that he would raise $100,000 for her mayoral campaign. He eventually set up a political action committee through a shell company to place the money, prosecutors say. Marasco said Dumanis’ visit, Azano’s alleged promise, the subsequent money through the PAC, and the high volume of contributions on one day for the maximum amount without a fundraiser should have triggered alarm bells for the district attorney.

It is illegal for a candidate to knowingly accept donations from a foreign national.

Mexican businessman José Susumo Azano Matsura, right, walks into the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego with his former attorney, Michael Wynne, July 27, 2016.
Nicholas McVicker
Mexican businessman José Susumo Azano Matsura, right, walks into the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego with his former attorney, Michael Wynne, July 27, 2016.

Big questions hanging over the case are what did Dumanis know of Azano’s residency status and was she really a victim of his alleged fundraising scheme or an active participant?

Marasco contends Dumanis should have known Azano was an ineligible foreign donor or at the very least checked.

“By reputation alone, this individual is known as a successful businessman in Mexico," he said. "The first thing she has to ask herself is, ‘OK, can he contribute to elections here in the United States?’”

Political consultant John Wainio testified during the trial that he asked Dumanis on the phone in early 2012 whether Azano had a green card. He told jurors all he got on the other end was silence.

Marasco said that silence could have legal implications for the district attorney.

“There is this concept in criminal law that if you’re confronted with an allegation and you provide a response of silence, that is you provide no response whatsoever, that could be deemed an admission of knowledge,” Marasco said. “In this context, it could mean that she knew that he did not have a green card. It could also mean that it had just dawned on her that she hadn’t thought of asking that question or is concerned that someone is now is asking that question. No matter what crossed her mind during those moments of silence, it doesn’t bode well.”

Since the indictments in the Azano case came down in 2014, Dumanis has changed her story a few times on the extent of her contact with Azano.

She first said she only met Azano once in December 2011. It came out later that she and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore also met him on another occasion. Gore testified this month about that, saying Dumanis arranged and attended a meeting that included the sheriff and Azano.

Prosecutors also displayed an email she wrote to her campaign staff in which she referred to Azano as “Mr. A,” participated in a conference call with him and appeared excited about taking his advice on meeting a man she called “a master of Internet campaign stuff.” Azano bankrolled $100,000 of social media services performed by that man for Dumanis’ mayoral run. Her campaign never recorded the work on disclosure forms.

Dumanis also did a favor for Azano. She wrote a letter of recommendation to the University of San Diego for the billionaire businessman’s son.

Charles LaBella, a former U.S. attorney in San Diego, said despite those actions by Dumanis the onus is still on the donor to abide by election law, not the political candidate — but only up to a point.

“There is a threshold whereby the law can say and a jury can say, 'Look, there was so much evidence here that you knew or should have known and therefore we’re going to charge you with the intent you say you didn’t have,'" LaBella said. “The law says, ‘Wait a minute. You can’t just turn a blind eye to all this evidence in front of you.’”

In law, that’s known as “conscious avoidance.” Prosecutors would not comment on whether Dumanis did that in her interactions with Azano.