SAN DIEGO (CN) — A wealthy Mexican businessman was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Friday, more than a year after being convicted of funneling than $561,000 to political candidates in San Diego’s 2012 mayoral race.
Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, 52, of Guadalajara was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael Anello to 36 months in prison and 3 years supervised release and fined $560,955: the amount he was convicted of donating illegally to political candidates using straw donors.
Azano was convicted in September 2016 on 36 charges of conspiracy and falsification of records, including cash and in-kind consulting services to mayoral candidates Bob Filner and former San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Azano, who made his fortune in security technology, fired his attorney after he lost the 6-week trial last year. In June this year, his request for a new trial was denied.
Prosecutors said Azano wanted to buy political influence to support a waterfront development project dubbed “Miami West.”
As a foreign citizen, Azano is barred from donating to U.S. political campaigns because he does not have a green card or immigration status that would allow him to do so.
Knut Johnson, Azano’s new attorney, indicated Friday he would appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Azano was immediately taken into custody after oral argument by Johnson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher, who asked that Azano be sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Several members of Azano’s family attended, including his son Edward Susumo Azano Hestor, who also was charged with the conspiracy and was recently sentenced to probation.
Judge Anello repeatedly cited the support Azano received from his family at the sentencing hearing, including 33 letters of support.
Anello remarked that though Azano was a successful businessman and devoted husband and father who led “an exemplary life,” he had been convicted of a serious crime that undermined the “integrity of our electoral system.”
“American elections are for American citizens,” the judge said.
In seeking probation for his client, Johnson said the lesson to be learned is that the campaign finance system in the United States is broken.
“Mr. Azano was so generous, everyone around him knew that and had their hands in his pockets,” Johnson said. He blamed the conspiracy on campaign financers “who should have known the rules” and asked for Azano’s money.
Azano told the court: “If I had known back then what I know now, I would have never given Bonnie [Dumanis] or anyone money. … I always want to comply with U.S. laws.”
But prosecutors Pletcher said Azano’s sentence should reflect his “leadership” in the conspiracy, proclaiming: “American elections are not for sale.”
Anello found the crime Azano committed was “essentially victimless” and that he will suffer collateral consequences, including likely deportation to Mexico when he is released.
Azano has 14 days to file an appeal.
Filner left the mayor’s office while ensnared in a sexual harassment scandal. Dumanis resigned her job as district attorney this summer, to run for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors.