San Diego’s chief law enforcement officer is District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. In 2012 she ran for Mayor. Her associate, Ernesto Encinas — a retired San Diego Detective — conspired with a foreign national to secure illegally about $200,000 in a foreign campaign contribution. Approximately $100,000 went to a campaign committee, while the other $100,000 or so funded the campaign’s online presence.
On March 18, 2014, Mr. Encinas walked into federal court and pled guilty to every charged felony, including tax fraud, campaign violations, and conspiracy. As a result he could be sentenced to as many as eight years in a federal penitentiary. This is a serious case, with serious allegations about fundamental fairness and propriety. In the center of the case, is Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego’s top law enforcement officer. This is an untenable position for a sitting District Attorney.
Jason Forge, a former federal prosecutor, believes DA Dumanis is the target of this federal investigation, and said as much during a KPBS interview last week (I share his belief). Mr. Encinas plead guilty to all charges — known as “pleading to the sheet”. This is atypical, and for those who understand the system it has meaning. I agree with Mr. Forge: An open plea under these circumstances tells me the investigation will seek to roll Mr. Encinas and use his testimony against the other members of the conspiracy, including not only Mr. Azano, but potentially DA Dumanis and Mr. Filner.
In a recent series of TV interviews DA Dumanis insists she knew nothing about the illegal campaign contributions. She claims she was surprised that Mr. Encinas collected $200,000 from Billionaire Mexican Titan Susuma Azano.
This is nearly impossible to square with reality, particularly since Dave Maass reported in City Beat in May 2012 — before the election but after the campaign contribution — about Dumanis’s connection to these illegal campaign funds. DA Dumanis tries to soft peddle this illegality: She admits she met with Azano at his waterfront Point Loma mansion, but she says all he did was show her his fancy car collection. This is utterly farfetched: A billionaire lays out $200,000 at a critical point in a troubled campaign, but never bothers to mention it to the candidate? That’s impossible — and there’s no way that happened.
Mr. Adams, a political science professor at SDSU also finds this claim preposterous. He says “it is hard to imagine that Azano sets up an independent expenditure committee, with over $100,000 in it, and Bonnie Dumanis wouldn’t know who was running that — or where that money was coming from. So I find it highly unlikely that she didn’t know at all what was going on. . . given the size of the amounts of money it is hard to imagine she knew nothing about this.” In fact, Adams pointed out “If the elected officials don’t know who you are, that donation is kind of useless. . . ”
In order to believe DA Dumanis didn’t know one would have to believe that this $200,000 contribution was beyond her purview, even though the official campaign only raised about $500,000. In other words, 40% of the $500,000 in legitimate campaign funds magically appeared anonymously and without provenance. Furthermore, in order to believe Dumanis’s story you would have to believe the seasoned candidate — mind you, not merely a skilled lawyer and former judge, but also the sitting chief law enforcement officer — never bothered to check how she financed her own campaign.
Furthermore, campaign contributions are regularly reviewed at the highest levels in a campaign. One need not have a political science degree to understand campaigns burn money and constantly need new cash infusions. There is no plausible way DA Dumanis can claim “I didn’t know” about the finances of her own campaign. It’s insulting to her constituents, particularly when she says it with the imprimatur of the San Diego District Attorneys Seal.
Even if no prosecution is brought — and somehow the investigation determines she lacks knowledge — her lack of diligence and leadership in this important area is reprehensible. Indeed, there are only two choices: 1) She knew about Azano’s illegal contribution but let her ambition get the better of her and committed several federal felonies; or 2) Her leadership and oversight was so lax, during the campaign multiple campaign felonies were committed in the midst of her own campaign. Either choice is abysmal and has dishonored the District Attorney’s office.