By Liam Dillon.
Less than 10 weeks into Bob Filner’s brief tenure as San Diego mayor, he was already under federal criminal investigation for alleged political corruption, igniting a string of investigations that appeared to continue until his resignation in August 2013, a defense attorney in a related political corruption case said in court Friday.
The feds were initially looking at Filner for crimes related to alleged illegal campaign donations made by Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura and later expanded their investigation toallegations he shook down a developer for $100,000 to get a project approved in Kearny Mesa, said Michael Lipman, an attorney representing an alleged co-conspirator in Azano’s ongoing criminal case.
“They clearly believed that Filner might have been corrupt,” Lipman said.
Lipman, citing evidence in the Azano case, laid out a narrative that showed in December 2012 the feds began looking into allegations that Azano and his then-bodyguard, former San Diego Police Det. Ernesto Encinas, illegally funded Filner’s successful 2012 mayoral campaign.
Federal investigators, Lipman said, then used an increasingly sophisticated set of techniques to go after Filner and were being fed information by Filner’s SDPD bodyguards.
This is the timeline, according to Lipman:
January 2013: The feds learn and are troubled that Azano and Encinas showed up to Filner’s December inauguration and Encinas suggested to an old police officer friend that Azano was a huge donor to Filner’s campaign and that Filner was going to help them out.
February 2013: On Feb. 8, the FBI opens a formal political corruption investigation naming Filner as the top target with Azano and Encinas also involved. The agency received information from Filner’s bodyguards that Encinas and Filner met three times in January in City Hall and that Filner told his security detail to drive him to Azano’s house and wait outside. That meeting with Azano lasted hours. Later that month, the feds apply for a court order to monitor the mayor’s incoming and outgoing calls. (There’s no information on whether they ever tapped Filner’s phone.)
May 2013: The feds open a simultaneous investigation into Filner’s deal with Sunroad Enterprises, a developer that wanted to build a residential project in Kearny Mesa. There are allegations Filner initiated a quid-pro-quo by urging Sunroad to donate money to the city in exchange for the project’s approval.
By that August, Filner resigned after numerous women accused him of sexually harassing them. He later pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment and two misdemeanor battery charges related to actions against some of the women.
An FBI spokesman reached late Friday said he could not immediately confirm any Filner investigation.
Lipman laid out the Filner timeline in court Friday as part of his argument that a wiretap on Encinas’ phone was illegal.
Prosecutors in the Azano case declined to comment on Lipman’s remarks in court.
After the hearing, Lipman said that despite all of the time spent investigating Filner, he’s seen no evidence in the Azano case that indicates Filner did anything wrong.
“I have not seen any evidence of any corruption by anyone in this case, including the politicians,” Lipman said.
Filner has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with the campaign finance scandal, or the Sunroad case.