July 2 2014 09:03 AM

News of the district attorney's relationship with José Susumo Azano is mounting

Bonnie Dumanis
Photo by David Rolland

    "It makes me angry that I would be mentioned in the same breath as people who went to such extreme lengths to violate the law. It makes me outraged and if the allegations are true, they should be held accountable."

    That's San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, quoted in a Jan. 24, 2014, story in U-T San Diego, referring to José Susumo Azano, the wealthy Mexican businessman at the center of a campaign-finance scandal involving several recent local campaigns and a federal race, including Dumanis' failed 2012 bid for mayor of San Diego.

    Dumanis has worked hard in the press to distance herself from Azano, whom federal prosecutors have accused of illegally contributing $600,000 to local campaigns, including $200,000 to help get Dumanis elected mayor—foreign nationals aren't allowed to donate to political campaigns in this country.

    Dumanis has claimed that she didn't know that Azano had made illegal contributions on her behalf. He didn't donate to her official campaign; he allegedly laundered money through an intermediary into a so-called independent-expenditure committee—also known as a super PAC. Such committees, by law, are run independently of candidates' campaigns.

    CityBeat broke the news of Azano's Dumanis donations in May 2012 and even questioned their appropriateness, given that Azano is a Mexican national. We were told, incorrectly, that it was kosher because he had a green card.

    In that Jan. 24 U-T San Diego story—about Dumanis' attendance at a 2012 get-together at Azano's Coronado home that involved roughly 10 people— Dumanis said she wasn't sure if that was the only time she'd ever met Azano. But in multiple other U-T San Diego stories, Dumanis has said she's only met him once.

    That's contradicted by a new revelation this week, reported by Voice of San Diego, that Dumanis and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore met with Azano on March 2, 2012, according to Gore's calendar. Voice reports that Kelli Maruccia, a fundraiser for both Dumanis and Gore, set up the meeting. No one can ever remember what was discussed at these meetings; Azano apparently doesn't leave much of an impression, other than his affinity for expensive cars and dropping names.

    Dumanis' assertion that she doesn't know Azano could be further undermined by a Sept. 28, 2012, letter of recommendation that she wrote—on district-attorney letterhead—for Azano's son, who wanted to attend the University of San Diego. The existence of the letter became known on June 2, when it was described in vague terms in a court hearing, but the judge refused to make it public.

    CityBeat, among other media, filed a request with the District Attorney's office to provide a copy of the letter under the California Public Records Act—the state law that requires most documents pertaining to the people's business to be provided upon request—but the DA's office declined to release it, arguing that it's not a public document.

    Representatives of numerous local media organizations disagree and are mounting a challenge. Even the U-T San Diego editorial board, which endorsed Dumanis for reelection before she prevailed on June 3 with 54.9 percent of the vote amid low turnout, published an editorial on June 24 that said the letter "definitely is the public's business."

    For argument's sake, let's say the letter isn't a public document under state law (but we believe it is). That wouldn't mean Dumanis can't release it. She can. So, why won't she? Is it because it reveals a stronger relationship with Azano than she's admitted to? Would it establish what we're already suspecting—that's she's not telling the whole truth?

    One thing we haven't mentioned yet is that Dumanis has acknowledged long ties to Ernie Encinas, a former San Diego Police detective and close associate to Azano, whom prosecutors say helped Azano make his illegal donations. We now know Dumanis met with Azano at least twice and that she wrote a reference letter for his son. We also know that it's next to impossible for a candidate to be unaware that someone has spent $200,000 on her behalf, particularly late in a race in which the candidate is floundering, and particularly when it's reported in the press.

    If Dumanis wants us to stop mentioning her in the same breath as Azano, she should release the letter and stem the slow trickle of new information about their relationship by coming completely clean about it.

    What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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