Mexican billionaire found guilty on multiple counts of buying political influence in San Diego

Posted at 12:33 PM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 18:23:57-04

SAN DIEGO - Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano and two others were convicted Friday of involvement in a scheme to secretly funnel more than $500,000 into the 2012 San Diego mayoral campaigns of Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner.

Following a six-week trial, a federal jury found Azano guilty on 36 counts, including conspiracy, campaign finance violations and falsification of records.

Jurors could not reach a verdict on a firearm charge against the 51-year-old defendant, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12.

Azano's attorney, Michael Wynne, told reporters that he was "very disappointed" with the verdicts and predicted a "win on appeal," even if the case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Political consultant Ravneet Singh, 44, and Azano's 24-year-old son, Edward Susumo Azano Hester, were each convicted of felony counts associated with a series of illegal campaign contributions by Azano to the campaigns of Dumanis, who lost her mayoral bid, and Filner, who won but would later be forced from office in a sexual harassment scandal.

After five days of deliberations, jurors were unable to reach verdicts on several charges brought against 46-year-old San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes and acquitted him on several counts of falsifying campaign donation records.

The jury also acquitted Hester on several charges related to the falsification of campaign donation records, and could not reach a verdict on several other counts against Hester.

"We appreciate the jury's dedication during this long trial and are grateful for their careful consideration of the evidence," said Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Blair Perez. "The jury's verdict confirms that a foreign national must not attempt to influence a United States election."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Schopler told jurors that Azano got his son and others to recruit straw donors to contribute to the Dumanis campaign, then Azano reimbursed the donors.

A political consultant testified that he felt pressured by some in the Dumanis mayoral campaign to find a way to put $100,000 of "fishy" campaign funds to work for Dumanis and her run for mayor. Dumanis is now the district attorney of San Diego County.

The consultant, John Wainio, said he rejected an offer to deposit the money from Azano into a political action committee.

As a foreign national, Azano is barred from financial participation in U.S. elections.

Prosecutors said Azano was trying to buy influence in his vision to build a "Miami West" development on the waterfront in San Diego.