Mexican businessman charged in San Diego campaign finance case

Jose Susumo Azano pleads not guilty

SAN DIEGO - A Mexican millionaire accused of funneling $600,000 into San Diego political campaigns pleaded not guilty Thursday to a federal charge of campaign contributions by a foreign national.

Jose Azano Matsura was arrested Wednesday by the FBI, and an indictment was unsealed Thursday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Perry moved to detain Azano, telling Magistrate Judge Mitchell Dembin that the defendant was a flight risk and a danger if released.

Perry said Azano is a Mexican citizen and has only a border-crossing card that was set to be revoked by the U.S. State Department.

The prosecutor alleged Azano was at the center of a large scale fraud, possibly one of the biggest in San Diego County history, if not the country, and argued that Azano's alleged actions were a threat to the political election system in the United States.

The prosecutor said witnesses told authorities that Azano referred to his ability to have people killed, and a loaded gun was found last month in a search of Azano's home.

But defense attorney Knut Johnson said Azano wouldn't abandon his family -- who are U.S. citizens -- and would stay in San Diego to fight the charges.

Dembin allowed Azano to post a $5 million bond, to be secured by the equity in one of his two homes in Coronado. He must also wear GPS monitoring as he would be confined to his home.

Dembin said that arguments of Azano being dangerous weren't proven, but the risk of flight was considerable because of his wealth -- estimated at possibly reaching billionaire status.

Marco Polo Cortes, a local lobbyist, and Ravneet Singh, the owner of the Washington, D.C.-based campaign services company ElectionMall, are also charged in the case.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Cortes, Singh, ElectionMall and former San Diego Police Department Detective Ernesto Encinas after the three were arrested and charged in a complaint filed last month.

Last week, Encinas waived his right requiring prosecutors to present their case to the grand jury.

Cortes, Singh and Encinas are accused of trying to hide the source of the large donations to local campaigns, including the 2012 mayoral campaigns of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner.

It is illegal for non-citizens to contribute to U.S. election campaigns.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the donor -- Azano -- wanted to turn San Diego's bayfront into a West Coast version of Miami.

Azano faces five years in prison if he is convicted of the federal charge.

Azano's son and wife were in court for the hearing but refused comment afterward.

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