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Mexican businessman indicted in political contributions case

ElectionsPoliticsLaws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeJuan Vargas

SAN DIEGO -- A wealthy Mexican businessman, accused of hoping to buy influence with political contributions, has been indicted on a federal charge of making illegal contributions during the 2012 mayoral election.

Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, 48, a Mexican citizen, was arrested without incident at his home in Coronado in San Diego County. He was arraigned Thursday in federal court.

Magistrate Mitchell Dembin set bail at $5 million.

Federal law makes it illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to U.S. political campaigns. Conviction on a single count carries a possible maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Azano is accused of using a "straw donor" to mask the contribution of $120,000 during the 2012 runoff campaign to a committee supporting San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner.

Filner's name does not appear in the indictment, but details in the document lead to his campaign and a committee supporting it. The contribution was made in September 2012, according to the indictment. At that time, Filner was facing then-Councilman Carl DeMaio.

Azano allegedly wanted help from the possible future mayor in getting approval to build hotels to turn the San Diego waterfront into "Miami West."

The $120,000 is only part of the more than $500,000 that Azano is accused of contributing to candidates and committees supporting them, according to prosecutors.

Already charged in the case are a retired San Diego police officer, a local lobbyist and the owner of a Washington, D.C.-based election services business.

Ravneet Singh, 41, owner of ElectionMall Inc.; retired police detective Ernesto Encinas, 57; and lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes, 44, were charged in January.

The defendants conspired to funnel the money into independent committees supporting candidates in the mayoral elections of 2012 and 2013, among other elections, according to prosecutors.

Among the candidates whose campaigns were helped were San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) and Filner, who was elected mayor but has since resigned amid harassment allegations.

None of the charges against the four co-defendants say that any of the politicians knew of the allegedly illegal contributions.

Singh and Encinas used a series of schemes, including shell companies and so-called straw donors, according to the charges.

None of the politicians are named in the charges because they are not defendants, prosecutors said.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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