Defendant in Azano campaign contribution case pleads guilty

Wednesday, the last of four defendants charged with illegal campaign contributions in the 2012 San Diego mayor’s race in connection pleaded guilty in federal court.
Marco Polo Cortes pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making a campaign contribution in the name of another and obstruction of a federal representative.

Cortes was indicted at the campaign financing scheme orchestrated by businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, which pumped in close to $600,000 in contributions to the race. The money was illegal because Azano is a Mexican citizen without a legal status in the U.S. who’s barred under federal law from leading to domestic campaigns.
Cortes admitted conspiring in the campaign contribution scheme with former San Diego detective Ernie Encinas Azano and La Jolla dealership Marc Chase.

He confessed setting up a meeting on Sept. 17, 2012, at a downtown restaurant involving Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, as well as Azano. Azano donated $30,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on behalf of Vargas, running the money.
The barrier charge stems from a brief standoff Cortes on Jan. 21, 2014, when FBI agents went to detain Cortes at his home and he refused to open his own door. An FBI SWAT team was called and, after an hour, he relented with incident.
Azano making illegal gifts and was convicted of 36 charges including conspiracy and has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. Chase testified in the summer of 2016 for the government at the trial of Azano pleaded guilty and has been put on probation for 3 years. Encinas is yet to be sentenced after pleading guilty early on and cooperating with the probe.
The jury that convicted Azano and two others deadlocked on the charges against Cortes. To being in December, A retrial was place. Cortes instead would be to be sentenced on March 5. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison.

Vargas told The San Diego Union-Tribune at August 2014 that he didn’t solicit or encourage the $30,000 donation. He explained at the dinner Azano talked mostly about his long-runing feud with Sempra Energy within a land dispute near Ensenada, also stated he wanted the company researched.
Vargas stated in the interview that he told Azano to bring national prosecutors his concern, and resisted the request.

Twitter: @gregmoran
greg.moran@sduniontribune.com

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