A federal prosecutor Friday morning gave the first clue to the biggest unanswered question in the campaign finance scandal that rocked San Diego politics this week: What did the wealthy Mexican national who allegedly conspired to illegally funnel $500,000 to San Diego elections want?
The foreign national, believed to be Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, wanted to develop San Diego’s bayfront and turn the city into “Miami West,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Perry said in court.
Azano talked about the plan with a candidate, believed to be Bob Filner, prosecutors allege. Filner told Azano the city didn’t have jurisdiction over the bayfront, but he would try to hold up the massive Navy Broadway complex development so Azano could gain control of the project, prosecutors said. (Neither Azano nor Filner has been named in the federal complaints, but enough information was provided to identify them both.)
Prosecutors didn’t indicate when the request was made. Filner has not been accused of any wrongdoing, nor has Azano been charged with any crimes as part of the scandal.
This disclosure fits interestingly with what we’ve already reported about the connection between Filner and Azano, and the controversy over Navy Broadway, already one of San Diego’s biggest long-running development dramas.
What We Know About Filner and Azano’s Development Discussions
Filner and Azano met at Azano’s palatial Coronado estate during the thick of the 2012 mayoral campaign on Aug. 17, and just weeks before federal prosecutors allege Azano dumped an illegal $340,000 into the race to boost Filner. A source who witnessed the meeting told me fundraising wasn’t discussed there.
But the source did say Filner and Azano talked about possible development projects along the bayfront, public-private partnerships and other general ideas for San Diego. The source said there was nothing strange, illegal or immoral about the discussion.
“If you’re looking for dirt at that meeting, it didn’t happen,” the source told me.
That said, the source told me lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes and former San Diego Police detective Ernesto Encinas brought up Azano funding an independent expenditure for Filner multiple times after the meeting. It’s illegal for foreign nationals to donate money to American campaigns. Cortes and Encinas have both been charged in the scheme.
The source’s account was supported by entries from Filner’s campaign calendar, which we independently obtained. We don’t know of any subsequent meetings between Filner and Azano, but the calendar does list a walking fundraiser with Cortes and Encinas on Sept. 1. The source also witnessed that meeting.
What We Know About Navy Broadway
If you follow San Diego politics at all, Navy Broadway should ring a bell. Here’s how Scott Lewis described it:
The Navy Broadway Complex is quite possibly the ugliest thing about San Diego. Sure, uglier, more depressing places exist. But not on public land with so much potential and value.
The buildings look like embarrassing relics of a failed civilization. They’re forbidding, completely inaccessible and right smack dab in front of our beautiful bay — a place where we welcome tourists and supposedly will stroll with our skipping children. Right now, homeless San Diegans camp out in front of the chain-link fence surrounding it.
Years ago, the Navy decided to give the responsibility for revamping the 15 acres of land to waterfront developer and U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester through a 99-year lease. Manchester’s plan includes building a new Navy headquarters with hotels, offices and retail around it. But the development’s gone nowhere amid numerous legal challenges and financing problems.
Filner has long been one of the biggest opponents of the Navy Broadway development, and of Manchester himself.
In 2009, Filner called for an FBI investigation of the Navy Broadway project. He said the Navy gave the wrong impression about geologic studies for the development, calling it “possible fraud.” During the mayoral campaign, Filner ran an entire television ad blasting the Manchester’s links to then-rival Carl DeMaio.
In short, the idea that Filner would want someone else to develop Navy Broadway is neither new nor shocking.