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Trial Of Mexican Businessman Accused Of Illegal Political Donations Begins

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.

Trial Of Mexican Businessman Accused Of Illegal Political Donations Begins Wednesday
Trial Of Mexican Businessman Accused Of Illegal Political Donations Begins Wednesday GUEST:Greg Moran, investigative reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Opening arguments got underway today in the federal trial involving illegal campaign contributions. Mexican businessman José Susumo Azano Matsura is accused of illegally donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to independent committees supporting San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner back in 2012. Prosecutors wanted support for a plan to develop Miami waterfront into what was called "Miami West". Joining me is Greg Moran, investigative reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune . He is at the federal court in Downtown San Diego. Welcome to the show. Hello. What was that in court today? This is the first day of actual trial process. They picked a jury yesterday. This morning was the opening statements by the United States government and then several defense lawyers, the lawyer for José Susumo Azano Matsura and the other defendants. Are they all being prosecuted for the same thing? Be much. It is a conspiracy case that involves pretty straightforward facts. The government says that Mr. AZANO had a premeditated plan to contribute money and services to the political campaign. That is 2012 for former mayor San Diego Mayor Bob Filner . In doing so, he had several methods to do this. He had set up a super PAC and he used contributions from a company that was owned by Mr. Singh. The government this morning said a couple of things. One is that this money came from Mr. Azano and none of it had his name on it. These were checked and contributions that flowed from him to these campaigns are committees, but without his identifiers on it. The government went on to say he went to elaborate lengths to hide the origin of where this money was coming from. The central point of the illegality according to the prosecution is that José Susumo Azano Matsura cannot contribute, legally, to a candidate in the United States because he is a Mexican citizen. That is correct. Fournette citizens cannot contribute money to domestic campaigns -- foreign citizens cannot contribute money to a domestic campaign. He not only did that, but there is a second charge that he contributed more money than was allowed. But you are right. If you are from a foreign country you cannot contribute to a U.S. campaign. There are a number of high profile people that might be possible witnesses. Who might we hear from in the coming weeks? The government put out a witness list last week, Bill Gore, the Sheriff. Three political consultants, Ron nearing the former head of the county and state Republican Party. All of these had a role in the 2012 campaign or some interaction with one of the defendants, or something like that. So in many ways, the interest in this trial will be a peek behind the curtain of how money is raised, spent, and distributed in the upper circles of San Diego politics. It might surprise some people that the people he was accused of donating to, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner are not expected to testify . White is that. It's hard to say. The government did not put them on the witness list but that does not mean they can't be called. It also does not meet the defense will not try to call them. I think miss Dumanis and Bob Filner said it had nothing to do with them. But they did have a meeting and they discussed this money. Bonnie Dumanis went to his home and had lunch with him. At one point she got a call with a political consultant who had had some interaction with Azano and they were asking what she knew about that guy. And there was a long pause on the other side of the phone by Bonnie Dumanis. We will find out why they are not here. But they are very central, in many ways, to what the government alleges went on. One of the defense attorneys today suggested that this case started because the government was looking into Bob Filner. That's Right. Many people have been interested this case. The attorney said today to the jury, the government investigation started because they were targeting Bob Filner and they believed he was corrupt. They wanted to get Filner and they knew Azano was involved. That was the origin of it . How we ended up with Azano and the other defendants is the story we will here now. But it was interesting to hear by a defense lawyer that the target was not really Azano but the target from the FPR -- FBI was Bob Filner Thank you for being here, Greg Moran, investigative reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune You bet.

Trial Of Mexican Businessman Accused Of Illegal Political Donations Begins
José Susumo Azano Matsura is accused of illegally donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to support San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner in 2012.

Opening arguments got underway Wednesday in the federal trial of Mexican businessman José Susumo Azano Matsura. Prosecutors allege he made illegal campaign contributions to San Diego politicians.

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 Wednesday.

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 prosecutors' witness list but could still be called to the stand.

On the witness list are San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, political consultants Tom Shepard and Jennifer Tierney, former San Diego Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring and several others.

"This case will give us a peek behind the curtain of how money is made in the upper echelons of San Diego politics," San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Greg Moran said on KPBS Midday Edition. Moran and KPBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma were in the courtroom Wednesday.

Corrected:
KPBS Reporter Amita Sharma contributed to this report.