Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Azano Case Goes To Jurors

azano_t614.jpg
Azano Case Goes To Jurors
Azano Case Goes To Jurors GUEST: Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS

We've been reporting on the trial of Jose Susumo Azano Matsura. He is the Mexican national accused of allegedly trying to buy political influence by illegally contributing to the campaigns of mayoral candidates in the 2012 election. Now the testimony is over, KPBS investigative reporter is with us to summarize where we are now in the case which involves former mayor, Bob Filner and current district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis. Thanks for joining us. It's good to be here. Prosecutors say he conspired to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into the 2012 San Diego mayor's race. What's the main question before the jury now? Well, just what you just said. Did Jose Susumo Azano Matsura conspire to legally contribute money mostly to former San Diego mayor, Bob Filner's campaign and district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis 's campaign when they ran for mayor in 2012. On the face of it it's a fairly straightforward case. The government has called people to the stand who say they wrote checks to the campaign and were reimbursed. The government has shown emails and played wiretaps in the courtroom of conversations showing there was a conspiracy. If the jury, however, strays from the judge's instructions and goes rogue and asks questions like, with a minute, how does a Mexican guy with all this money and no green card get the money in the campaigns without the candidates themselves knowing about it? Then it becomes more complex. Because, you know, at the end of the day, really big campaign donors, whether they are foreign donors, or domestic donors, give to candidates because they want influence. They want access. So, that means they want the candidates to know that they are giving. In the case of Matsura, prosecutors said that Dumanis went to his house asking for crucial financing for her campaign and prosecutors said that 25% of the money she received for her campaign actually came from Azano . Even -- leaving the candidates aside. In the closing arguments at the defense when after the prosecution in question why some of the key players, particularly retired police detective Ernie Encinas was not called up to testify. Why might his testimony be significant? You're right, Allison. He was widely viewed as an essential player in this. According to the government he was a key conduit between us on oh and the campaigns of Filner and Dumanis. He was a good friend of Dumanis and help allegedly -- he helped Gabriel Adibe make the contributions. He pleaded guilty to tax fraud and conspiracy early on and was believed to be cooperating with the government. The defense has sought to pin the blame on Encinas. He was on the prosecution list of witnesses. The government opted not to call him. Yesterday one of the defense attorneys told the jury that his absence from the case was enough to stir up reasonable doubt. The prosecution quickly countered in their rebuttal that that is just baloney. If the defense thought there was a shred of evidence that Encinas could provide for the defense, they were free to call in to the stand. 's another site called him. Neither side did. I think the defense will tell you it's on our job to prove the government's case. From the prosecution perspective, they will only call people who will prove their case and they may have decided that they had already proven the case and did not need Encinas or they may have decided that Encinas was too much of a liability to call. It's tough to know. Let's talk about the candidates and where the money went to. There were some major elected officials who did take these including district attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Were there any new revelations from her testimony? Know. Not really. Azano 's lawyer called her to the stand. He said the wake of her testimony that her contacts were nothing more than meet and greets and that's exactly what Dumanis said when she took the stand. Her meetings were meet and greets with Azano . She said she believed Gabriel Adibe was a U.S. citizen. That's important because not only is it illegal for a foreign national without a green card to contribute to U.S. elections it's illegal for a candidate to knowingly accept contributions. That is a key question little was learned on why she thought he was a U.S. citizen. What she did to verify that. There were no probing questions about why her story changed about the extent of her contacts with Azano nor did we learn why she went to his home, asking for crucial financing. And how is it that 25% of the money in her mayoral campaign came from him? Is a possible the outcome of this case may have for the ramifications for our district attorney? If you mean it may she be charged in the case? It's, I think, unknowable and highly unlikely at this time. The way that would happen is if the defendants in this case were convicted and in order to get a lighter sentence they decided that they knew more about what Bonnie Dumanis or Bob Filner new and they decide to tell prosecutors and a grand jury. And take it from there. It's in the jury's hands now. You were in the courtroom for several days. What's your sense of the jury? Well, I'm no jury consultant. I will say though that during closing arguments yesterday, the jury seemed extremely attentive. They were taking notes. They were fixated. They were hanging on every word that was coming out of the defense lawyers mouth and during the prosecutors now during rebuttal. It's a difficult case. When made a comeback with the verdict? That's also tough to predict. Because it was a 5.5 weeks trial, and so many witnesses, something like 40 witnesses were called by the government and I think 10 by the defense, it got a lot of evidence. I would be really surprised if they came out with a verdict by tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow evening. I think it's likely to come back sometime next week. Amita Sharma, thank you so much for filling us in. Thank you for having me here.

Azano Case Goes To Jurors
The illegal campaign finance case of José Susumo Azano Matsura is now in the hands of a jury. The Mexican businessman is charged with illegally giving money to San Diego candidates in the 2012 mayoral race.

The illegal campaign finance case of José Susumo Azano Matsura is now in the hands of a jury.

The Mexican businessman is charged with illegally giving money to San Diego candidates in the 2012 mayoral race.

Azano is a Mexican citizen without a green card. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Azano’s attorney criticized the prosecution for failing to call retired San Diego Police detective Ernie Encinas to the stand.

According to the government, Encinas was a key conduit between Azano and then mayoral candidates Bob Filner and San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

Azano’s attorney said Encinas’ absence should cast “reasonable doubt” on the government’s case.

But the prosecution pointed out that the defense could have called Encinas to testify, if they believed he could have helped their case.

No word on when the jury might come back with a verdict.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.