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Campaign probe focuses on homeland security specialist

A wealthy Mexican national in Coronado who describes himself as a "visionary" pioneer in homeland security is now at the core of a federal probe into San Diego political campaign contributions.

Although federal laws bar foreign nationals from donating to political campaigns, Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, who divides his time between San Diego and Mexico City, allegedly used a shell company, a local businessman and a political consultant to donate up to $700,000 to local campaigns, including the mayoral campaigns of Bonnie Dumanis, Bob Filner and Nathan Fletcher.

So far, federal prosecutors have not identified Azano by name. In a criminal complaint filed earlier this week, he is merely referred to as "the Foreign National." But the complaint's detailed description of campaign contributions make clear that it is Azano.

Azano could not be reached for comment.

The complaint accused retired San Diego police officer Ernesto Encinas and Washington, D.C., political consultant Ravneet Singh of helping Azano donate to local candidates and falsifying records to cover their tracks.

The prosecutors did not suggest any motive for the contributions, which totaled nearly $700,000, according to the complaint.

Born in Guadalajara in 1965, Azano got a degree in architecture before becoming head of the family-owned building firm TEI Construction. But Azano has said he found his real niche when he left TEI in 1998 to found Security Tracking Devices SA CV, whose work ranges from tracking devices for cargo vehicles to the development of wireless security networks, border security systems and homeland-security government projects.

According to Mexican press accounts, Azano's firm has had contracts with the Mexican Department of Defense totaling about $376 million at current exchange rates. His company won a Mexican award as Best Business Developer of Homeland Security Projects.

Azano says that he has homeland security contracts with countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe. But that has been hard to verify, especially because the company's website is still under construction.

Azano landed in the local spotlight when he clashed with Sempra Energy in 2011 over its plans to expand into Baja California. The next year, he used the holding company for his private plane — Airsam N492RM LLC — to form a political action committee supporting Dumanis’ mayoral run. Azano donated $100,000 to the committee, with $15,000 coming from the Sycuan tribe and $3,000 from Encinas.

According to the federal criminal complaint, Azano also agreed to pay Singh and his ElectionMall political consultancy $100,000 more for social services to aid Dumanis' run, including banner text ads and Google word placements.

Dumanis campaign consultant Jennifer Tierney stressed that Azano's actions involved independent activities and were not connected with the campaign itself. "Our campaign followed the law and did not coordinate with this independent committee," Tierney said in a statement.

The federal complaint said that Azano also gave $190,000 to Singh and $380,000 to an unidentified local businessman to make political contributions on his behalf to other politicians, including two mayoral candidates who have since been identified as Filner and Fletcher.

Since the criminal charges were filed, politicians who received indirect contributions from Azano have been returning the money.

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