San Diego, of all places, lately has acquired an unwanted image as Sin City. In mid July, Acting Mayor Michael Zucchet was forced out of office – his first day on the job. His predecessor, Dick Murphy, re-elected by a close margin last November, had just resigned over allegations of mismanagement of the deficit-ridden public employees’ pension fund. But these scandals, which appear to be heavily driven by zealotry of political opponents, may be masking a bigger problem: a longstanding old-boy network of local politicians and union bosses.
That would seem to be the case with Ralph Inzunza, recently suspended from his job as a San Diego City Council member. He and Zucchet (who also had been a council member), both 35, were convicted in a federal trial court this July on extortion and fraud charges. The case centered on the pair’s acceptance of $34,500 worth of bribes and illegal campaign contributions from a strip club owner in exchange for a vow to pressure the City Council to repeal a ban enacted in 2000 on touching between strippers and patrons. Michael Galardi, a 310-lb. former body builder and owner of San Diego’s Cheetahs, plus three nude bars in Las Vegas, was the government’s key witness. He said he paid off the councilmen because he felt the no-touch ordinance was hurting his business. Inzunza, Zucchet, and Clark County (Nev.) Commissioner Lance Malone (who carried the cash for Galardi) each could get three to four years in prison. Galardi already has pleaded guilty in San Diego and Las Vegas; Cheetahs manager John D’Intino also has pleaded guilty. The FBI secretly recorded 200 face-to-face meetings and wiretapped another 100,000 phone conversations in its two-and-a-half-year investigation. Where is H.L. Mencken now that we need him?
Inzunza, at least, has managed to land on his feet pretty quickly. The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella group for 110 unions representing 100,000 members, by the end of the month offered him a $30,000-to-$40,000-a-year job teaching basic computer, math and language skills to low-income, predominantly Hispanic job seekers. Nobody is suggesting there’s anything wrong with that – at least on the surface. Certainly, the whole affair suggests that America’s Pleasure Police might have something better to do with their spare time than to pass laws against touching (or allowing someone else to touch) a dancer’s thighs – the gals at Cheetahs aren’t exactly selling Girl Scout cookies. But it isn’t just tee-totaling bluenoses who ought to be troubled by the speed at which the Labor Council offered Inzunza a job. Plenty of people ought to smell something fishy when city officials and union chieftains are this tight. The Labor Council put its own spin on its hiring decision. “I think people understand the word ‘loyalty’ in the labor movement,” said Council Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Butkiewicz. “I think Ralph was a big supporter of working class people.”
In the meantime, lawyers for Inzunza and Zucchet plan to file a motion for a retrial. If they can’t get a new trial, they will file an appeal after sentencing in November. (San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/15).