Campaign Finance Scandal Building a better region together, one story at a time

The Campaign Finance Scandal Just Got Real

Until this week, all the noise over the campaign finance scandal had resulted in just a single charge against Jose Susumo Azano Matsura. An indictment released Tuesday includes 26 charges – and this time there’s bribery and guns involved.

Until this week, all the clamoring over a wealthy Mexican businessman’s alleged contributions to local politicians had only culminated in a single charge against him.

But a federal grand jury Tuesday filed a new indictment against Jose Susumo Azano Matsura and others associated with the scandal. This one included 26 charges, including two conspiracy charges, 24 related to campaign contributions or falsified records, a firearms charge and a bribery charge against one of the members of the conspiracy.

Azano is a Mexican resident who lives in Coronado. Foreign nationals cannot contribute to U.S. political campaigns.

Previously, the U.S. attorney had alleged Azano passed nearly $600,000 through straw donors to make political contributions to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Rep. Juan Vargas and former mayor Bob Filner during their 2012 campaigns.

It also included charges against a cast of characters and alleged Azano associates like Ravneet Singh, who ran an online campaign service called ElectionMall Inc., a former San Diego Police Department detective named Ernesto Encinas who worked private security for Azano, a luxury car dealer in La Jolla named Marc Chase and registered City Hall lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes.

But there was still only the one charge against Azano.

Last month, Azano for the first time outlined his case in a wide-ranging court filing that said Sempra Energy had instigated the criminal investigation against him because of the role he played in a land dispute in Ensanada, Mexico, a few years ago.

In Azano’s account, the FBI took its best shot at him and could only come up with a single, relatively minor charge of campaign finance impropriety.

The new indictment comes closer to matching the fever pitch that initially surrounded the scandal.

On top of all the additional charges, here are new details from the indictment:

• The indictment specifically places Azano at the center of each allegation. That directly contradict’s Azano’s version of his involvement, which essentially said Encinas had gone rogue and was making requests and contributions with candidates without Azano’s knowledge.

For instance, here’s a section of the indictment’s description of the arrangement, in its conspiracy charge:

AzanoCharges

Ultimately, the indictment says Azano arranged and paid for all donations made on his behalf, and paid Singh through a Mexico-based company to conduct off-the-books social media work for the candidates.

• It also included details of two emails sent from Singh’s company in reference to off-the-books services.

“Enclosed is the invoice for the betty boo project for 100k it was originally 75 but Mr. Singh explained the need for the additional 25 during his last visit to San Diego and Mr A (Azano) verbally agreed,” one reads.

“I am not responding to this email. Because of the legal ramifications. Please talk to me … in person … ” said another, from Singh to Encinas.

• Azano got dinner in September 2012 with Vargas. This is the first direct tie reported between Azano and Vargas, who benefited from donations to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A week after the dinner, Chase wrote a check to the DCCC, which was supporting Vargas. This was a month after the indictment says a Vargas representative sent Encinas an email with a link to the specific Federal Election Commission’s prohibition against foreign involvement in elections.

• The new indictment alleges Singh gave a “public official” $1,000 in exchange for classified and confidential information.

• The indictment also charges Azano for carrying an unlicensed firearm. Federal law says foreign nationals admitted to the country under a nonimmigrant visa cannot possess firearms.

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