Letter at center of Bonnie Dumanis flap surfaces

SAN DIEGO - A letter that has raised eyebrows over District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and her 2012 mayoral campaign has surfaced.

There have been growing questions over her dealings with a man charged with illegally funneling foreign contributions to political campaigns.

Mexican millionaire Jose Susumo Azano is charged with using middlemen to provide San Diego political campaigns with illegal foreign contributions.

In 2012, Azano donated $200,000 to an independent expenditure committee, or Super PAC, for Dumanis. That same year, Dumanis wrote a letter of recommendation to University of San Diego President Mary Lyons on behalf of Azano's son.

At the time, word of the letter did not come out until most of the mail ballots had been returned. The letter, which Dumanis released to the media on Wednesday, reads:

I am writing to support the admissions application of Susumo Azano, Jr. I believe that he will make an immediate and positive contribution to the student body at the University of San Diego.

Susumo is a bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded young man. Susumo has volunteered annual with various charitable groups in impoverished areas in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, as well as supporting human and immigrant rights campaigns along the California - Mexico border.

As a Political Science major, Susumo has shown an active interest in government and politics and as a teenager he actively participated in political campaigns throughout Mexico.

Susumo is an exceptional student and individual, one that would contribute greatly to any program. I recommend him and wish him the very best in all future endeavors.

Dumanis spoke on KUSI Wednesday morning, saying that the letter was not public record.

"Our legal beagles in the office looked at it, I've looked at it, and I believe it's not a public record," Dumanis told KUSI. The station was one of the few not threatening her with legal action over the letter.

Later Wednesday morning, Dumanis released the following statement on the matter, saying there would be no further comment:

"Speculation over this letter has been without merit. Even though this is not a public record, but a personal letter, I have decided to release this letter in this case only. It is my hope that by doing so, we can all focus on holding the individuals charged with crimes responsible for their actions."

Media attorney Guylyn Cummins says transparency is at the heart of this issue.

"It was written on official stationary, meaning that she intended to exert her power and influence in the recommendation letter as the District Attorney and it's very important I think for the public to be able to scrutinize the conduct that the District Attorney engaged in," Cummins said.

Former San Diego city councilwoman Donna Frye, an advocate for open records, said the letter was "absolutely a public record."

Frye said as councilwoman, if she ever had a request to release any letters of recommendation she wrote, it would not be an issue.

"The public elects you and the public expects you to let them know what you're doing and why you're doing it," Frye said. "It shows a very serious disregard and lack of respect for the public right to know." 

Dumanis is now in her fourth term in office as District Attorney after beating out lawyer Robert Brewer in a recent election. She had enough votes to avoid a runoff in November, despite being accused by her opponents of politicizing the office.

Dumanis has denied the claim that she has politicized the office, pointing to a strong conviction rate by the prosecutors who work under her, though the specific numbers are disputed.


Editor's note: In a previous version of this story it was stated that Azano had donated $200,000 to Dumanis' 2012 mayoral campaign. The money was actually donated to an independent expenditure committee.

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