Stay up to Date
Our weekly insiders guide to political and policy news (Saturdays)
Bonnie Dumanis released a college recommendation letter she wrote for the son of the key figure in a campaign finance scandal. But the more she downplays her ties to the scandal, the more she reveals about her proximity to its main players.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis gave a television interview Wednesday morning where she released a 2012 college letter of recommendation she wrote. Dumanis was recommending the son of a man charged with making more than half a million dollars in illegal contributions to local campaigns – including Dumanis’ own mayoral bid.
Dumanis allegedly benefitted from hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions from Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, a wealthy Mexican citizen. Dumanis hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, but she has consistently given misleading and incomplete statements about how well she knew Azano and the actions she took on his behalf before and after he allegedly helped finance her losing 2012 mayoral campaign.
One of those actions was the Sept. 28, 2012 University of San Diego recommendation letter that she wrote for Azano’s son, Edward Susumo Azano. She released the letter Wednesday after Voice of San Diego and other media outlets threatened to sue over it.
“Susumo is a bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded young man,” Dumanis wrote in the letter.
Dumanis said in the interview that the letter’s glowing language demonstrates nothing about her ties to Azano and the campaign scandal.
That was the weakest argument she made in trying to downplay the letter. But it wasn’t the only one. Her statements continue to indicate she knows more about the scandal and its key figures than she has let on. Here’s a rundown of the worst offenders:
Dumanis said she didn’t know Azano’s son, the subject of the recommendation letter. She said she signed her name to the letter at the behest of Ernesto Encinas, a former San Diego police detective who she’s known for years. Encinas led Azano’s private security in San Diego.
“It was Ernie Encinas, who I knew for 20-plus years, former law enforcement, asked me to do that,” Dumanis said. “Just like, as I said, other letters, I had somebody prepare the letter, I look at it and will do it if I feel comfortable.”
Encinas has already pleaded guilty in the campaign finance scandal. He has admitted to illegally funneling Azano’s money to Dumanis and other local politicians. By saying she wrote the letter at Encinas’ request, Dumanis is admitting that she trusted the use of her name and office to a guy who was facilitating hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations from Azano.
Somehow Dumanis believes this argument is evidence that she wasn’t doing favors for those involved in the scandal. Instead, it reveals even deeper ties to them.
When the campaign finance scandal first broke, Dumanis said she remembered one meeting with Azano, a luncheon at his Coronado home in early 2012.
It turns out, however, that she also had a 40-minute meeting with Azano, Encinas and Sheriff Bill Gore in Gore’s office in March 2012.
Dumanis said in the Wednesday interview that she doesn’t know how many times she met with Azano and it would be impossible for her to keep track.
“This was in the context of a campaign,” Dumanis said. “Really because there’s a federal case pending, I don’t want to really get into the details. But in a campaign, I meet thousands of people. And this was two years ago.”
That explanation obscures the types of interactions Dumanis had with Azano: Sure, she could be forgiven for forgetting a random encounter with someone at a routine campaign event. But she had a private, 40-minute meeting with Azano and another high-ranking law enforcement official in a public building.
Beyond the rosy adjectives she used to describe Edward Susumo Azano in the recommendation letter, Dumanis called him an “exceptional student and individual” and someone who would “make an immediate and positive contribution” to the University of San Diego. She also talked about his interest and involvement in Mexican politics and his volunteer efforts.
Still, Dumanis argued Wednesday that the letter shows she didn’t actually know Edward Susumo Azano. She said she gets two kinds of recommendation requests. For people she actually knows, her recommendation is based on personal experiences that she expands on in the letter.
“The other kind is when someone I know that is vouching for a person asks me to write a letter,” she said. “I make it clear by not saying it’s somebody I know.”
The purpose of a recommendation letter is to advocate on someone’s behalf – a relationship is assumed. Only an explicit acknowledgment that she didn’t know him would make that fact clear.
When the district attorney’s office sends official letters, Dumanis said, they come on elaborate letterhead. Edward Susumo Azano’s recommendation letter didn’t, she said.
“If you look at this, the letterhead that I’ve used, isn’t the standard letterhead that we use for the business of the DA,” Dumanis said. “It’s not.”
Dumanis said there was a clear difference between an official district attorney letter and the one she wrote for Edward Susumo Azano.
Here’s what the Edward Susumo Azano letter looks like:
It includes Dumanis’ title and office telephone number – twice. It also includes an official DA’s office seal. If Dumanis didn’t want people to think the letter was from the district attorney, she could have omitted those things.
Dumanis is continuing to maintain she didn’t know Azano or anything about his alleged actions. But each bit of new information about her relationship with Azano and other key figures in the scandal reveals more actions she took to benefit them.