San Diego: A Tale of Two Cities Part 1 Continued

On May 3, 2005 the trial begins in Judge Miller's courtroom with jury selection.

From the Union-Tribune, July 19, 2005"

"[FBI agent] Davey testifies that Inzunza accepted about $8,500 from Galardi and strip club associates in Las Vegas and San Diego during a six-month reporting period. Davey says Lewis was given $5,000 in checks from Galardi employees, their friends and family members during Lewis' run for council. Malone delivered $6,750 in checks to Zucchet. In a tape of a call played for the jury, Zucchet told Malone he had to return the checks because of potential political fallout. They agreed Zucchet would accept money later."

Why would Inzunza be accepting campaign contributions in Las Vegas? Doesn't sound like normal channels, does it?. Zucchet, on the other hand returned the money because he didn't feel right about it. His "agreement" to accept money later might have been just a way of politely ending the conversation. Surely, there is no guilt here until he actually accepted money illegally. And there is no implication that the money Zucchet rejected was anything but a legitimate campaign contribution

June 24

The defense opens by calling the widow of City Councilman Charles Lewis. Carlette Lewis testifies that she never saw her husband take cash from strip club owner Michael Galardi during a trip to Las Vegas. Jennifer Tierney, Zucchet's campaign manager, testifies that when Malone gave Zucchet $6,750 in checks from strip club sources, she advised the councilman to return them to avoid political fallout, and he did. Tierney says that months later she advised Zucchet it would be all right to accept checks from Malone because the checks would not show up on reports until after the election and therefore would not represent a political risk. Zucchet's attorney, Jerry Coughlan, tries to show the jury that the councilman's actions were not underhanded, but widely practiced political moves.

June 27

In arguing a motion, prosecutors cite secretly recorded conversations as proof that Inzunza and Zucchet obtained money in exchange for the exercise of official power. Prosecutors said the quid pro quo need not be explicit, and that evidence as a whole proves there was a "meeting of the minds" to exchange official action for money.

So it was never proven that Zucchet, or Inzunza, for that matter ever accepted anything other than legitimate campaign contributions. However, Inzunza seemed to spearhead the whole plan to get no-touch repealed. He comes across as a cheerleader. Why? He didn't really have a legitimate interest since it didn't affect his district. Zucchet, on the other hand, did have a legitimate interest in the issue and comes across as wary of the whole business. Galardi has a personal interest in convincing the court that he bribed both Inzunza and Zucchet and Lance Malone as well and spares nothing in the way of accusations against them. His cooperation with the Feds is geared to obtaining a lighter sentence for himself.

Malone When the jury verdict comes in, Malone, Inzunza and Zucchet are all found to be guilty. At sentencing, however, in an unusual move, Judge Miller overturns most of the jury verdict against Zucchet setting him free while sentencing Inzunza to approximately 3 years in jail. Zucchet could possibly face retrial on the remaining charges.

When I heard that the jury foreman was a fan of Rush Limbaugh, I thought things might not go well for these Democratic councilmen. I don't think Zucchet deserved to be found guilty. It's a shame. As a person living in his district I attended meetings where Zucchet was present and spoke. He was by all estimates an excellent councilman, but now his career as a politician is ruined. Luckily, he has a job and has gone about the process of rebuilding his life. I guess the moral of the story is that if you associate with slimey characters, some of the slime may rub off on you, and Zucchet, as a fledgling councilman, shouldn't have touched this issue with a 10 foot pole. On the other hand, as someone who had these kinds of businesses in his district and wanted to work out a deal that would remove certain of them from a specific area for the purpose of redevelopment or cleaning up the neighborhood, he probably thought it was within his purview to get involved. The prosecution, having charged these guys based on an elaborate sting operation involving a number of shady character, had to go for the jugular although, in their hearts, they probably knew Zucchet was not guilty.

On November 11, 2005 as reported in the San Diego Union, ex-councilman Michael Zucchet stood before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller for sentencing. His attorney, brought in especially for this purpose, made one final plea to have the charges against him thrown out. To everyone's surprise and Zucchet's immense relief, the judge threw out seven of the nine counts of the jury's guilty verdicts against him and ordered a new trial for the remaining two.

Former City Councilman Michael Zucchet, accompanied by his wife, Teresa, said after the ruling that his feelings ranged from "gratitude to shock to 'My God, finally,' and everything in between."

But in the same courtroom a few hours later, celebration gave way to anguish as former Councilman Ralph Inzunza broke into sobs during a statement the judge described as one of the most poignant he had ever heard.

"I can't believe how dumb I was to get sidetracked on this issue. I wasn't elected for this. This isn't what I worked for," Inzunza said.

Yesterday's remarkable legal hearing, in which the judge acquitted Zucchet of seven of the nine counts against him, left the former councilman sobered by the sentencing of his one-time colleague and thinking ahead to a new trial on the two remaining charges.

It left Inzunza and his family devastated, pondering the prospect of nearly two years behind bars for the former councilman and the irreversible spiral from elected official to convicted felon.

On May 6, 2006, in a San Diego Union article entitled "Las Vegas trumps S.D. with smut, bribes, drama," it was reported that the Las Vegas defendants were convicted of the same charges: conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion. The Las Vegas trial involved much larger sums of money than the San Diego trial and a lot of lurid sex. It is to be noted that neither Zucchet nor Inzunza were accused of any sexual improprieties. Nor was it proven that they accepted anything other than legitimate campaign contributions. Galardi's testimony that he had given them cash was unsubstantiated and not corroborated by any other evidence or testimony. Galardi had an incentive to lie, and there were inconsistencies in his testimony. The San Diego convictions were based on the fact that there was supposedly a "quid pro quo" for the campaign contributions. What was the quid pro quo? That the councilmen would repeal the "no-touch" rule? They couldn't do that by themselves without a vote of the entire council. That the councilmen would put the issue on the agenda? It was a legitimate issue, and as such there was nothing illegal about putting it on the agenda for any reason where it probably would have been voted down.

The councilmen had been manipulated by FBI informant Tony Montagne who had a motive for implicating them in the bribery scam. He was getting paid by the FBI. The FBI was fully committed and had invested a lot of resources in the project of nailing the councilmen. Galardi and Malone surely were intent on bribing the councilmen as opposed to lobbying them, but guilty intent on the part of one party does not make the other party guilty. Manipulating the system by introducing phony emails and testimonials from non-San Diego citizens as Inzunza did was beyond the pale of acceptibility, but Zucchet evidently was not involved in these shananigans. Inzunza's motive seems to be a ready source of deep-pocket campaign contributions. Without specific laws regulating lobbying activity, which he surely would have been charged with if they had existed, Inzunza is technically innocent too. He's probably not the first to milk a campaign contributor. The "quid pro quo" was in the eyes of the beholder. Surely many a lobbyist has received a wink and a nod from the lobbyee. There was nothing specific on tape to the effect that the councilmen would do anything in particular in return for the campaign contributions although there was certainly an implication that there was a plan to get the issue on the agenda. Even so there was no guarantee that the no-touch law would be repealed.

The line between being lobbied and accepting a bribe needs to be more carefully defined. Also San Diego police officer Russ Bristol was used by the FBI as an informant and was enlisted to lie to the councilmen about whether the police wanted the no-touch rule repealed. Surely this was beyond the pale on the FBI's part and represents entrapment. The councilmen were lied to by somebody representing law and order, someone they thought they could trust! The FBI to be sure had to do this in order not to blow Bristol's cover, but this should have nullified the case right there. Galardi and Malone thought Bristol was corrupt. As far as Zucchet and Inzunza knew, he was just another cop. In reality he was working for the FBI. I think Zucchet would not have been willing to vote to repeal no-touch if he thought the police were against repealing it. Evidently he came to the right conclusion anyway because, although he was steered to Bristol, he actually checked in with someone else in the police department who gave the truthful information. So how could there be a "quid pro quo" on Zucchet's part, at least. Maybe the process of his coming to this conclusion wasn't well documented. If it had been, surely it would have been exculpatory.

All in all this has been a cautionary tale for fledgling councilmen. If you're going to get involved with the likes of Galardi and Malone, better consult your lawyer first!

Dx9 Return to "San Diego: A Tale of Two Cities Part 1"