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Sheriff, DA Met With the Man at the Epicenter of Campaign Finance Scandal

Sheriff Bill Gore and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis met with Jose Susumo Azano Matsura for a “meet and greet” at Gore’s office during the same period the Mexican citizen was allegedly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Dumanis and others.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis met with Jose Susumo Azano Matsura during the same time prosecutors allege Azano was illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Dumanis’ failed 2012 mayoral campaign.

The meeting took place in Gore’s office on March 2, 2012, according to Gore’s calendar. Azano wanted to introduce himself to Gore, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said.

Azano, a Mexican national, was charged in February for allegedly illegally contributing more than half a million dollars to various San Diego political campaigns starting in late 2011. He’s pleaded not guilty.

This is the first time the sheriff has been linked in any way to Azano. Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said Gore, Dumanis, Azano and former San Diego police detective Ernesto Encinas attended the March 2012 meeting. Encinas is a confidante of both Dumanis and Azano and has pleaded guilty to facilitating Azano’s campaign donations.

Gore’s calendar indicates that Kelli Maruccia, the campaign fundraiser for both Dumanis and Gore, helped set up the meeting. The calendar blocks off 90 minutes for the meeting, but Aquino believed the discussion lasted no longer than 40 minutes.

“The sheriff does not recall many specifics, but does remember that Mr. Azano discussed his affection for golf, his residence in Coronado and that he mentioned at length all the government officials he knew in Mexico,” Aquino said.

Aquino said Gore has never received any campaign donations from Azano. But Dumanis was a major beneficiary of Azano’s money. Dumanis hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing in the campaign finance case and has denied any knowledge of what Azano was doing or what he wanted from San Diego politicians.

Dumanis, who recently won re-election as district attorney, declined to be interviewed.

“I understand nothing of substance was discussed,” Dumanis spokesman Steve Walker said.

Dumanis has said that she couldn’t remember how many times she had met with Azano. She’s been circumspect about her dealings with Azano even as details of deeper ties between the two have emerged, including a college recommendation letter she wrote for Azano’s son, a gift basket Azano sent Dumanis and a prosecution her office handled in which Azano’s son was the victim.

The only encounter with Azano Dumanis has recalled publicly was a luncheon at his Coronado estate in early 2012. She’s never mentioned the Gore meeting.

The meeting with Gore could shed light on Azano’s motivations for involving himself in San Diego politics.

Prosecutors have said Azano wanted to develop the city’s bayfront property into “Miami West.” But Azano’s business interests focus on law enforcement and surveillance equipment. Aquino said Gore regularly participates in “meet and greets” with members of the community. He has not met with Azano since, she said. Gore is unaware of Azano’s companies doing any business with the Sheriff’s Department or the county, Aquino said.

“The sheriff would not want the Sheriff’s Department to enter into a contract with someone who is under local or federal indictment,” Aquino said.

In late 2011, Azano allegedly began funneling money to Dumanis’ mayoral campaign through straw donors arranged by Encinas, a Dumanis friend who also provided Azano’s private security.

At least 10 people attended the early 2012 meeting at Azano’s house, Dumanis said. She recalled few details about the gathering other than that Azano talked about software he developed in Mexico and that she noticed his fleet of fancy cars in the driveway. She said he didn’t ask for anything from her.

In February 2012, Azano began investing heavily in Dumanis’ mayoral campaign, prosecutors say. Azano paid a Washington D.C.-based campaign consultant $100,000 in off-the-books contributions for Dumanis’ social media efforts, according to a court filing.

Dumanis’ meeting with Gore and Azano occurred a month after he began spending a lot of money on her behalf.

By May, Dumanis was floundering in fourth place in mayoral polls. But Azano started a political action committee to promote her mayoral bid, and contributed another $100,000 on mailers and other advertisements. At the same time, Dumanis ads began appearing on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro border crossing.

After Dumanis’ loss, prosecutors say Azano gave hundreds of thousands in illegal donations to Juan Vargas and Bob Filner’s successful bids for Congress and San Diego mayor, respectively. Neither Vargas nor Filner has been charged in the case.

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