SAN DIEGO -- San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis could testify as early as Tuesday in the trial of a wealthy Mexican national accused of illegally contributing to local campaigns.
But just because Dumanis takes the stand doesn’t mean she’ll be asked the big question dogging the case: Did she know some of the contributions she was receiving were illegal?
José Susumo Azano Matsura and three others are accused of funneling $600,000 into political campaigns in San Diego.
From the moment it came out that Azano had allegedly contributed more than $200,000 to Dumanis’ 2012 mayoral run, observers have wanted to know what the district attorney knew about his immigration status.
It’s illegal for a foreign national without a green card to contribute in U.S. elections, and U.S. candidates are barred from knowingly accepting such contributions.
Azano’s lawyers are calling Dumanis to the stand with the hope she’ll say the two barely knew each other, so it’s possible the defense will never ask her what she knew of his immigration status. Former federal prosecutor Rob Marasco said it may be better for the government to forfeit asking Dumanis any questions.
"We have to assume that the jurors would be interested in knowing what one of their elected officials knows about this," Marasco said. "But the government may want to avoid creating a sideshow, that is, having the jurors focus on Dumanis, which is something the defense wants the jurors to start do."
Marasco said the prosecution faces another challenge if it does cross-examine Dumanis.
“If the government does ask her questions, but doesn’t ask that question, then it might just aggravate the jurors," Marasco said.
But then again, Marasco said, if the prosecution never cross-examines Dumanis, that may spawn even more questions in the minds of jurors.