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San Diego campaign scandal sees second guilty plea

A luxury car dealer on Thursday became the second person to plead guilty in a case alleging that a Mexican businessman illegally funneled more than $500,000 to support San Diego politicians, including $120,000 to back former Mayor Bob Filner.

Under a plea agreement, defendant Marc Chase said the businessman, Jose Susumo Azano, wrote him a $380,000 check in October 2012, with instructions to spend $180,000 to support candidates for elected office, court documents state.

The remaining $200,000 was to buy an Andy Warhol serigraph.

The plea agreement included checks from Chase or his companies for $120,000 to San Diegans in Support of Bob Filner for Mayor 2012 and $30,000 each to the San Diego County Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Chase, 52, could face a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and up to $800,000 in fines for eight misdemeanor counts of campaign finance crimes.

Azano, who lives in the San Diego suburb of Coronado, pleaded not guilty in February to making a campaign contribution by a foreign national. It is illegal under federal law for a foreigner to donate to federal, state or local political campaigns.

Azano's attorney, Knut Johnson, declined to comment on the plea agreement by Chase, who had previously been identified in court documents only as an unnamed “straw donor.” The plea agreement says Chase sold Azano $9 million in cars from 2010 to 2013, as well as watches and artwork.

Azano, who heads a conglomerate of construction and security companies based in Guadalajara, Mexico, and specializes in selling eavesdropping equipment to governments, is accused of secretly channeling donations to support four candidates for mayor and Congress in 2012 and 2013. Prosecutors contend he sought to develop San Diego's downtown waterfront.

No candidates had been named in court documents until Thursday's plea agreement produced the check to the committee backing Filner, 71, who resigned as mayor after less than nine months in office amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations. He was sentenced to three months of home confinement.

There is no indication that Filner knew about the donation to the independent committee. His attorney, Jerry Coughlan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

According to the plea agreement, an Azano employee gave Chase about $10,000 in cash around late 2011 to support a candidate. Chase got a stack of envelopes and instructions from Azano to find straw donors to sidestep a $500 cap on individual donations.

Azano wrote the $380,000 check to Chase's Symbolic Motor Car Co. on Oct. 2, 2012, according to the plea agreement. One of Chase's companies, South Beach Acquisitions, wrote a $120,000 check to the pro-Filner committee on Sept. 28, 2012.

Last month, Ernesto Encinas, a retired San Diego police detective, pleaded guilty to federal counts of conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States and filing a false tax return. He is a central figure in the scandal for his role as head of the security detail for Azano.

Two other defendants, Washington political consultant Ravneet Singh and San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes, have pleaded not guilty.

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