Roundtable: Azano Campaign Finance Trial, Ignored Transparency Law, Otay Mesa RV Park
The political corruption trial of José Susumo Azano Matsura took off into interesting directions this week. The law said we should know but we do not. We explore the bizarre inside story of the RV park on by a city planning official. I am Mark Saur. The Roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion. I am Mark Saur and joining me today are Greg Brown. And Brad Racino . It is illegal for foreigners to make contributions to American political campaigns. That laws of the high-profile court this week in which a Mexican tycoon argues of trying to influence the outcome from the 2012 election of San Diego's mayor. Who was is wealthy Mexican quick It is a guy named José Susumo Azano Matsura . He is a Mexican businessman who is great success in there. his lawyer said he is not a billionaire but he does have a lot of money. He is accused of trying to insinuate himself and influence the mayor's race in 2012 by funneling a lot of money and contributions and services to the campaigns. And then pop who did become mayor through a variety of illegal ways. Independent expenditure committees and paying for services that were not reported. Weast said that this is illegal you cannot have a foreign national interfering in American election. Correct. Were not allowed to contribute. He has not the only defendant, right quick No along with him is his son in participating in the scheme and recruiting people to write campaign checks. He does work all of the country and he does while site development and accused of being paid by him to work for Bob Filner. The forthright is Marco Polo Cortez and accused of helping him with this owner thing and facilitate some of the contributions. So what was he allegedly after trying to funnel this money secretly to these candidates? The general narrative is that he was interested in developing the waterfront in San Diego and the prosecution is a narrative and he's a rich guy and want to develop projects in town and needs a friendly -- in a trial it is come out that he is a little -- he was a little confusing. There was talk that he'd a meeting and put up a slide in his expensive bayfront and then they said he's very interested in the Navy Broadway complex property in the city of San Diego. I think the general point is not were the exact piece of property. You can make an argument that he is trying to get off Filner because the port of Senegal is involved. Why was he trying to bribe candidates in Singapore commissioners? I don't know if he knew the intricacy of governments on the waterfront in San Diego. He was drawn into the mayor's race and had been involved in political campaigns in Mexico. I don't think -- itself like he is the top guy in figures if I can get a friend and then the rest will be taken care. So you talked about the witness list. Give us some of the high folks there testifying. That is very interesting. The crime and the Of alleged crime of the money laundering are interesting and important but to me what this is going to review -- reveal about how politics work at the top level is very interesting. You've heard some of the already from well-known political operations. She is a campaign consultant. John who is a real prominent campaign political consultant. There is going to be Kelly who is a fundraiser in Tom Shepard is also going to be testifying. And Robert Hickey who is the city attorney. He also like Bill Gore and people like that. It is a real kind of list of who post a lot of the strings. The two candidates from 2012 -- about Bob Filner. I should say that just because they're not on the witnesses does it mean they will not be called a cab be called. The government can call them. Any defense lawyer can as well but they are not there and there is question that whether they will call them or not. They have really kind of dominated a lot of the testimony so far. Of course, very visible. There are some Delawares that will come up but links to this case with secrecy, right quick Yes one of the methods that he was was a Delaware L -- he made a mistake. The point of using that is you have a agent for you and it can be a corporation. He was himself as a agent. It defeats the entire purpose. With the numbers after is a tell number so that's how -- this was not a very [ Laughter ] we have a couple of minutes left. What sort of penalties are they facing quick It is hard to say. There is a conspiracy charge and a number of charges about falsifying records. I kind of shy away from that because there is a ton of variables that go into it and you have to question if this is sort of a custody or jailtime case. I think the penalty here really is he would not -- I suspect you would be barred from entering the country or some side of -- sort of an pediment. Is going to go on a while. A few more weeks. What is the defense here. The defense for each won -- one has a different add-on. He wanted to develop property in it is a canard by the prosecution that is trying to kidnap some sort of theory to go after his client because it gets into a hold new strand of the case. He's had a lot of problems with the electricity company. The theory that is being touted is this was some sort of a power-play by a big corporation. Will the defense called Bonnie Dumanis our Bob Filner quick IDO see why not to go it is hard to say. I would think certainly -- they certainly has been testimony that really raises questions as far as I and demand. -- What did she know about this and what was she told. We will look forward to your reporting. We will move on like all big city Senegal does a lot of business with a lot of companies and has contracts with about 1000 private this is. Since 1992 Senegal had a lot of requiring companies doing business with the city that they reveal the identities of all those involved in the deal. Trouble is not only is that lot every forest so Brad start by telling us about this transparency and all of a sudden we had to get this thing on the table. This is one of the most interesting backgrounds of any policy I think I looked at in a long time. In 1990 the city of San Diego almost was trying to buy some property for $47 million. At the time, one of the council members Bruce Henderson what it to know who the city was buying it from. The real estate department did not want to tell him. So he thought it was interesting. He went back and asked them to tell us the name and they did. He did not recognize the name and he had a researchers admit it turned out that he is a second highest mafioso in the country at the time. Sold there is press conferences held in accusations flying about coverups. Out of that came this mandate that we should always know who they are doing business with. The mayor Maureen O onnor and using her strong mayorship she guy on the ballot in voters overwhelmingly agreed. I think more than 86% voted in favor of passing this law. It basically says -- it is short. It says that any transaction whether it is a sale or purpose or least the city need to know who was behind it. They need to know the people in the financial interests behind it. So the public needs to know who the city is dealing with her go It depends who you talk to about why this hasn't been in force -- in forest. San Diego has always had this culture. It may be is one of those things that people wanted to look the other way and did not want to enforce it or go they want the money coming to the city. There may be some truth to that or go then we talk to other people and he told me that law is so vague that it is hard to enforce. He said where does it say on here that that information need to be on paper. There is literally no definition or description past the few paragraphs. There are a couple of reasons why this is not been enacted. Does it apply to everyone including like a guy who paints offices does have to tell the city who is running the business quick There were no thresholds put into this description to law. It is where those things that need to be cleared up. Who discloses it? This was decided in the early 90s that says that the contractors doing business with any city is home -- there required to know the loss. Is up to them to know and disclose who they are quick Yes. Neither. They said the latest among city attorneys who said this law is there and we should enforce it. I had to laugh because he's now the third city attorney that have brought this up and proposed the Council. Here are the thresholds were proposing every time the city Council has ignored it. When I asked him are you going to for the last three recommendations? That is basically what he is doing. He is winter reiterate his offices and successors. These guys are right. So is there any welcome that so now -- mapped -- the only people that deserve credit are Sherri Lightner and they were willing to talk about this. She admitted she did not know about this. Alvarez said the same thing. So they are open to this. Councilman Alvarez said he went to get it done ASAP. I've asked Mayor Faulkner's office three different times to talk to me about this. I've got no response at all. What is the penalty quick Is says in the law that the contract to be boarded. There could be hundreds if not billions of dollars boarded if these contractors do not disclose -- Let me ask you we mentioned the previous segment Delaware that all factors into this case. That is the go to place to hide things, right? I should say that not every dollar is an entity. Have the Corporation are Delaware and they go there for a variety of reasons. They are very friendly. When it comes to like their work process. If you want to be anonymous you go there because Delaware law allows you to have to disclose of very few things. The name of your Corporation, the registered agent, and the business address and both can be third-party companies that do that for you. There are some buildings that have thousands of corporations and filing cabinets. There are no list of numbers. That is all that exists. Not useful when you look at the transparency. Some of the landmarks I mentioned that some are involved in we don't know the transparency. Name some of the places. Is alike liberty station in Petco Park. The Naval training Center there was always questions of who were behind these corporations that were buying it up. They all had names that sound familiar. You could have any officers behind those Delaware corporations. Same thing with Navy Broadway downtown and the hotels downtown. These are multi-hundreds of millions of dollars developments. If you look into the files of who owns these things for Navy Broadway it is Manchester financial. It could be anybody buying these things. You would've thought in all these years that somebody would have found it useful to dredge up the slot and expose somebody for a lawsuit or whatever motive they have. [ Laughter ] part of the problem is it is so vague a. It does not a good thing to go to court on. Does is play into election-year or is there any way back some advice is -- I think this is the first time that it's been brought up this publicly and I can assure you that we will hold them to the fire. Great. Will be looking for follow-up stories on that. We turn now to a bizarre story about her and permanent RV park. It is owned by a planning group. Where is this park? It is on an Incorporated property outside Otay Mesa. His been on the group since 1990 for and he's been reelected every couple of years. There is dozens of residents who are living on this property without sewage without access to electricity and they are paying about $370 a month. So it is cheap to live there? Gas. -- The first of residents said they moved in and in 1995 in a few years later more people started moving in and there was an advertisement posted on craigslist and that's how they found it. You describe some of the conditions there but how many residents are we talking about? Roughly about 40 so there's about 22 lots on the property and a couple dozen families living there. What are they living in? It is a combination. Mostly RVs which most of them have separate tanks. Others to have access to bathrooms. A lot of trailers and a lot of people since their being affected they don't know where they're going to go and most of their RVs are -- they don't know how they will get them out in there. because that is an expensive process. You did talk to Larry the prowl. With hear what he has to say. The runners are really freaked out and very worried that they are going to go from this situation good and bad to homelessness. That is -- that's what you wonder about her go that is pretty cheap. Where would be spoke speak? Do they face homelessness if they do get evicted here quick That is exactly what Larry said. Be found something unusual shopping around and haven't found anything in San Diego that they could afford. Bear going north a few hours most of them are afraid that they will be homeless after this. What was his motivation for doing this? Is a greedy and why did he ever tried to legalize it quite That is a good question. He said that his son was responsible for bringing a new tenants. When the initial family moved in a 1995 he said that it wasn't -- he did not want them to move in beside a bring him water in charging people and more people moved and. I did not get a clear answer as to why they are living there. He was not terribly forthcoming. I called him multiple times and ended up meeting up with him at eight planners committee meaning -- meeting. You didn't really -- he wasn't happy. Did the irony of a planning group unpermitted, and regulated this is on planning group land strike at all? They to advise the city Council and the planning commission. How about things like permits. Exactly. He said he wasn't aware of the land that Melvin was running. I did want to ask you the county is right off city land so it is unincorporated the land what are the violations but they are going after him on quick It is for limited agriculture. So they have multiple violations that they've gotten and many are for land-use issues having the tenants lived there. They actually did some illegal grading on the land, which some are living on now. It is very strange. They ordered him to stop working on the land and stop raising it. Either bring into compliance or if it the tenants. This started -- your story reported in 2012. That is when the first complaint was mentioned. He added lots in the meantime. There was a complaint in 2012 in the county followed up in 2013. With those violations he followed up with a play for a major use permit. For your that when on but not completed. The county came back in and issued him more violations. Does it usually take that long to do permit enforcement? They told that want to start applying for a permit they back off a little bit. So he got a little bit of leeway there. You have to think that it is in another part of a County. Somebody would've been onto the sky a few years ago Do you know where the initial complaint came from? Was a neighbor out there quick I don't know. It was a plate -- complaint about the property. An interesting part of her story is that abysses of the first case of hipping involved in things that were questionable. In 2014, the city of San Diego took him to court over another piece of land that he owned. He was running about eight illegal businesses on property that he owned in these wrecking yards which the land was unpermitted as well so it is kind of a similar situation. There was auto wrecking businesses, a church. These are elected positions on these planning groups. They are. It is a process so whoever shows up to the meanies can vote for these people to be on the board. So they're not elections that people are watching that closely. If someone wants a volunteer and be there then pretty much they can. The planning commission have they stepped in or try to see you should not be doing this? They have not. They said they were unaware. We will see what happens. Whether -- given the conditions down there and the lack of sewage disposal residents still want to stay there. That is a commentary -- that is what people once they have it are desperately willing -- I was trying to do the main thing here and collecting money. Will follow up and see in the fall when they are going to move off and what happens to these folks. That does wrap up another week of stories on the Roundtable. I would like to think my guest. Reminder all the stories we discussed today are available on our website. Final thought before we finish today's memorial service for the police officer Jonathan De Guzman serves as a reminder for all of us of the danger faced by police officers every day. I am Mark Saur. Thank you for joining us today on the Roundtable.
The Azano trial
The political corruption trial of Mexican billionaire José Susumo Azano Matsura and three others continues its sometimes tedious, sometimes riveting path through federal court in San Diego.
The quartet is charged with conspiring to funnel $600,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner during the 2012 San Diego mayor’s race. (Filner later won but resigned in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal.)
Foreign citizens are prohibited from contributing to U.S. political campaigns. Azano is a Mexican national.
Among those who testified this week were San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and former county and state Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring. Others who may be called to testify are former mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio, campaign consultant Tom Shepard and Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey, a San Diego city attorney candidate.
The prosecution says Azano’s goal was city approval for a splashy waterfront development he called "Miami West." He allegedly thought he could accomplish this by funneling money to both candidates through straw donors (who were repaid), by secretly funding a political action committee, and through secretly paying for campaign services that were supposed to be in-kind.
San Diego's invisible transparency law
A San Diego law on the books for 24 years mandates every company doing business with the city disclose the names, identities and interests of all involved in the transactions.
Trouble is, the city has $3 billion in contracts with over 1,000 companies and pretty much no idea who’s involved in the vast majority of them. These deals include land transactions around Petco Park, the Navy Broadway Complex and Liberty Station.
The law came about in 1992, when San Diego City Councilman Bruce Henderson discovered that Al Malnik, reputedly the second-highest ranking Mafioso in the U.S., was involved in a $47 million real estate deal to sell land to the city.
This was an offer Henderson could refuse, so he and then-Mayor Maureen O’Connor got the council to put an initiative on the ballot amending the city charter. In simple language (too simple, it turns out) the law required all city-engaged businesses disclose the financial interests behind them.
The law was brief and vague. Various city attorneys have tried to get the City Council to clarify it, including Jan Goldsmith, the city's current lawyer.
Council President Sherri Lightner and Councilman David Alvarez have scheduled the policy for discussion at a City Council’s Rules Committee meeting in October.
Planning official's unplanned — and unpermitted — RV park
Melvyn Ingalls, vice chairman and longtime member of the Otay Mesa Planning Group, which advises the San Diego City Council on land-use issues, owns 10 acres on unincorporated county land near Otay Mesa. The land is used as a park for RVs and trailers belonging to about 21 residents.
So far, so good.
But Ingalls has no county permits for any of this. He provides water and trash removal to the residents, although many won't drink the water because they say it smells bad. There is no electricity or waste disposal.
The only legal use for the land is for permitted housing for farm employees. San Diego County ordered the structures removed and tenants evicted in 2013, but Ingalls began the process of applying for a major use permit. He never finished and continued to accept tenants, even filling in land to add more acreage.
The county issued Ingalls a citation last November, ordering him to stop grading the land and remove all structures and tenants by Oct. 28.
Most of the tenants have no idea where they will go. Many are one step away from homelessness. The pay about $370 a month in rent, which is the most many can manage.