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Mexican Tycoon Convicted Of Illegally Pumping Money Into San Diego Campaigns

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.

Mexican Tycoon Convicted Of Illegally Pumping Money Into San Diego Campaigns
Mexican Tycoon Convicted Of Illegally Pumping Money Into San Diego Campaigns GUEST: Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS

The guilty verdict in the trial of Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura was not a big surprise. He was convicted by the in federal court a 36 counts in connection of making illegal campaign contributions. As a foreign national he is prohibited from donating to the US campaign. The jury cannot come to a decision on some of the charges and his codefendants. It is not known if the prosecution will pursue those charges. He awaits sentencing and San Diego awaits what, if any political fallout. Joining me is Amita Sharma After the trial, his attorney said outside the court and said this is the kind of thing that will go to the Supreme Court. Likelihood, that this case will be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court is pretty slim. He was not taken into custody after the verdict, why not ? Prosecutors wanted him to be taken into custody. They argued that his wealth and frequent travel made him a flight risk. But his attorney said that is not the case. They said this is a guy who does not have the means that everyone thinks he has. And, he traveled to Florida in the midst of all of this and made it back without incident. And that he is not going to leave the jurisdiction. And the judge agreed with the defense. And said that he did not need to be taken into custody. His own attorney says that he is not a billionaire ? That is correct. How much prison time could he be facing ? He was convicted on 36 counts including conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States. And illegal giving by a foreign national. Several of the counts carry a maximum of five years in prison. Other counts like falsification of records carry a maximum penalty of 20 years. It is hard to tell how much prison time he might be facing. What I can say, he does not have any prior offenses. That might give him -- it might buy him a bit of leniency in this case. I did talk to one lawyer this morning and said because he has no prior offenses, he will face anywhere between 2-5 years. This is a useless exercise we do not know what will happen. When will be he be sentenced ? The sentence is scheduled for December 12. What were the charges against that the codefendants ? The jury could not reach a verdict on many of the charges against Marco Polo Cortez and jurist acquitted him of falsification of records. Or falsification of campaign donations to record. They also acquitted his son, Edward Susumo Azano Hester. Our charges of falsifying campaign donation documents and they deadlocked on other charges against him. They say the social media services expert was convicted on all 4 charges. But those deadlocked charges -- We do not know yet. No indication from the prosecution was a feather quest Not at this point. Can you remind us of the reasons that he wanted to make campaign contributions ? Prosecutors said that he was motivated to give in the 2012 Mayall race because he wanted an ally in the mayor's office who would help him develop San Diego's they into a Miami project that included a got Marina and a hotel in other developments, and the belief was that he needed someone in the mayor's office to help him do that. Did anyone make the case that there was an agreement on the part of these politicians to pursue development on the day ? One person who was a [ Indiscernible ] testified that a employee he told him that the district attorney told Jose Susumo Azano Matsura that she would cut the red tape to make the project happen. An employee he of 8 to 5 based development company also testified that he did a PowerPoint presentation on a development project at the home of Jose Susumo Azano Matsura District attorney , he was subpoenaed to testify in this case. What did her testimony do for the defense ? Nothing. She testified that her meetings were simply meet and greets and no different than any other meanings that she has had as an elected update -- elected official. Has this trial given us a clear picture about the part that big money can play in our local elections ? It has. And it has not. It hasn't that, we have learned that someone can come in with a lot of money and give huge amounts in a local race. It is a huge raise locally but it is not the huge race in the general scheme of things. And this race, Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, he was called the single largest donor in the 2012 Mayall race. And you translate that into, he gave 25% of her campaign donations. That is pretty big. On the other hand, I do not know that we learned that much in that, wealthy people give in campaigns in US elections. That is how it works. And the reason they give is because they want access. From that perspective, I do not know that we have learned a lot. I have been speaking with Amita Sharma thank you.

A federal jury convicted a Mexican tycoon Friday of illegally pumping over $500,000 into the San Diego mayoral race in 2012.

Jose Susumo Azano Matsura was convicted on all counts except a gun charge. Sentencing is set for Dec. 12.

"The jury's verdict confirms that a foreign national must not attempt to influence a United States election," said Executive Assistant United States Attorney Blair Perez.

Azano's attorney, Michael Wynne, told reporters outside court that he was "very disappointed" with the verdict.

"This the kind of case that will go to the United States Supreme Court and if necessary we will win it there," Wynne said.

The jury also found two others, social media services expert Ravneet Singh and Azano’s son Edward Susumo Azano Hester, guilty on several counts. The jury acquitted Hester on several charges tied to the falsification of campaign donation records. The jury deadlocked on other charges against Hester.

Singh's lawyer Michael Lipman said he will appeal the verdict.

"It would be gross malpractice if you don't appeal a criminal conviction," Lipman said. "I think there are a lot of appellate issues."

He declined to say what they were.

The jury acquitted San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes.

The jury deliberated for five days. Jury foreman Caesar Tornel said it was a difficult case.

"They did their best with what they had," Tornel said of the jurors. "There were a lot of different factors to consider."

He said he wondered why the candidates who received Azano's money - San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner -- did not face more legal scrutiny in the case.

"I just asked myself why they weren't here," Tornel said. "It showed me that they are a little bit above the law."

Federal election law bars foreign nationals from contributing to U.S. campaigns. Candidates are also prohibited from knowingly accepting such contributions.

Filner’s 2012 mayoral bid received more than $300,000 from Azano.

Dumanis’ 2012 mayoral campaign received $100,000 in social media services. But the work was never documented on campaign disclosures. Azano also started a political action committee for Dumanis’ mayoral effort and contributed $100,000 through a company he owned.

Dumanis also received several thousand dollars more from Azano through straw donors.

Several well-known politicians took the stand during the 5 ½ week trial including Dumanis. She testified she believed Azano was a U.S. citizen.

Little was learned during Dumanis’ testimony about why she thought Azano was a U.S. citizen and what she did to verify her belief.

The jury also never learned why Dumanis went to his home asking for crucial financing and how it came to be that 25 percent of the money in her campaign, came from Azano according to prosecutors, without her or her staff’s knowledge.

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

Dumanis characterized her meetings with Azano as "meet and greet" sessions.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and former state Republican Party head Ron Nehring also testified during the trial.

But the prosecution never called former San Diego Police detective Ernie Encinas to the stand. He was widely viewed as a central player in the alleged conspiracy. According to the government, he was a key conduit between Azano and the campaigns of Filner and Dumanis. Prosecutors said Encinas helped Azano make the contributions.

Encinas pleaded guilty to tax fraud and conspiracy early on and was believed to be cooperating with the government.

The defense sought to pin the blame on Encinas. He was on the prosecution’s list of witnesses. The government opted not to call him. The defense told the jury that Encinas’s absence in the trial was enough to stir up reasonable doubt over the case.

The prosecution quickly countered that if defense lawyers thought Encinas could provide a shred of evidence that would help them, they were free to call him to the stand.