Mexican Tycoon Can’t Duck US Campaign-Funding Rap

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A federal judge on Friday denied a wealthy Mexican citizen’s request for a new trial after he was found guilty last year of illegally donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns of some of San Diego’s most influential politicians.

U.S. District Judge Michael Anello ruled from the bench that he would not grant Jose Susumo Azano Matsura’s motion for a new trial, telling the Mexican businessman he did not sufficiently show his previous attorney, Michael Wynne, ineffectively represented him during a criminal trial late last summer.

This past September, a jury found Azano guilty of illegally funneling more than $500,000 into the 2012 San Diego mayoral race. He was charged in 2014 of using straw donors to make campaign contributions, giving them money upfront or reimbursing them later in cash.

Azano, a Mexican citizen who owns a mansion on San Diego’s notoriously expensive Coronado Island, is barred from donating to political campaigns in the United States even though he holds a visa to be here legally.

He has maintained he was unaware he could not donate to U.S. political campaigns, as have the other defendants in the case including Azano’s son Edward Susumo Azano Hester, campaign consultant Ravneet Singh and San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes.

Anello said Friday that each of the dozen or so different reasons Azano claims Wynne negligently represented him during trial would need to be considered individually and would “require substantial evidentiary development.”

“Many of the claims would require examination of Mr. Wynne’s motives, and that would be a daunting task to say the least,” Anello said.

But Knut Johnson, Azano’s new attorney, argued Wynne failed to introduce a key piece of evidence during the trial which could have undermined the U.S. Attorney’s case: a $700 personal check signed by Azano that was donated to San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ failed mayoral campaign.

Johnson called the check a “powerful piece of evidence” that Azano did not know he was legally barred from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Azano’s new lawyer also pointed out San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore testified at trial that he was unaware foreign nationals were barred from donating to political campaigns.

“If Sheriff Gore didn’t know, how could Mr. Azano be assumed to know?” Johnson asked.

Azano also wanted Dumanis to know personally he wanted to help her campaign – another fact Johnson said disputed he was knowingly breaking the law and working to conceal his campaign contributions.

Dumanis testified during the trial she vaguely remembered “meet-and-greets” with Azano, but that she did not know he could not donate to her campaign. She was not charged in the case.

Johnson also requested Anello grant a post-trial discovery motion to compel the government to reveal why former U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy was recused from the case for an undisclosed conflict of interest. He suggested if the top prosecutor had a conflict, it would trickle down through the entire office – and outside counsel from another district should have been brought in to prosecute the case.

“When your boss has a conflict, someone with managing power over subordinates, how would the subordinates not have a conflict too?” Johnson asked.

U.S. Attorney Helen Hong disputed the recusal had anything to do with the case, saying, “There’s absolutely nothing but Mr. Johnson’s speculation.”

Anello did not grant the discovery motion. He also confirmed his tentative ruling and denied other motions by the other defendants for a new trial, to dismiss indictments and for judgment of acquittal.

Sentencing dates have not yet been set.

 

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