SAN DIEGO — A wealthy Mexican businessman was convicted Friday of illegally funneling more than half a million dollars to support two former San Diego mayoral candidates — marking one of the federal government’s largest cases against a foreigner secretly donating to U.S. political campaigns.
The jury in federal court in San Diego returned guilty verdicts against Jose Susumo Azano, his son, Edward Susumo Azano Hester, and Washington political consultant, Ravneet Singh.
The scheme gave more than $500,000 to the 2012 campaigns of San Diego mayoral candidates Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner, according to court documents. Azano wanted to develop San Diego’s waterfront with a marina for yachts, a five-star high-rise hotel and mixed-use residential development and wanted to ensure he had a mayor who would support those plans, according to prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Schopler quoted Azano as saying the city’s “trailer park losers” and “a small town mentality” were impeding its waterfront development.
Lawyers for the defendants could not be reached for comment. Azano’s attorney, Michael J. Wynne, said during the six-week-long trial that his client never had plans for such a development. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he plans to appeal. Singh’s lawyer had told jurors his client had worked in Mexico with Azano and was unaware of Azano’s plans in San Diego.
Dumanis, a Republican San Diego County District Attorney, lost the race. Former congressman Filner, a Democrat, won but resigned after serving less than nine months as mayor amid sexual harassment allegations.
Dumanis testified that she thought Azano — who lives in the nearby city of Coronado — was a legal resident but she said she had little memory of their interaction.
Azano arranged with his son and others to hide the contributions by having straw donors send the money to the campaigns, according to court documents. Azano and Singh also arranged for Azano to secretly pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars of services from Singh’s campaign consulting company, and to use those services to benefit the campaigns. In addition, Azano secretly funneled $30,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee through a conduit straw donor, prosecutors said.
No charges were filed against Dumanis or Filner in the case.
The three are scheduled to be sentenced in December.
This story has been corrected to show that Dumanis is still a District Attorney.