The scale of former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s gambling losses and related financial fraud are almost unfathomable. O’Connor placed gambling bets totaling over $1 billion, about 2 and half times the price recently paid for the San Diego Padres baseball team. Ms. O’Connor did win some of those bets, but not enough; her cumulative gambling losses are estimated at more than $13 million, one-hundred twenty times the official annual salary paid to San Diego’s current mayor.
Many other prominent people, including former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, have had gambling addiction problems. But the Bennett case was not on this scale and did not involve the systematic enabling that has made San Diego a magnet for financial fraud. The San Diego Police Department’s financial crimes unit was unable to solve any of the cases of improper foreclosure on the homes of active duty military who were in fact current on their mortgages. Ultimately, all it took was elementary accounting, elementary algebra, and persistence. But these skills simply do not exist among the San Diego city and county staffs paid to do this work. And that is so obvious to political insiders like O’Connor, the temptation to take advantage of this weakness can become irresistible.
A touching account of a legal clinic by students at Thomas Jefferson Law School helps to explain the disparity. A woman barely getting by came to the students for help because the City of San Diego had billed her nearly $500 for water at a property she had left because it was too expensive. The City was able to take the money directly out of her California state income tax refund without any hearing or giving the woman a fair chance to protest. A group of students was finally able to clear all the bureaucratic obstacles one by one and got the woman the refund she deserved. But if she actually had to pay them the $300 dollars an hour many attorneys charge, it would have cost thousands of dollars, money she simply did not have. The reverse side of this coin is a huge bureaucratic ring of protection around irresponsible political leaders like Maureen O’Connor who can breeze through a billion dollars without anyone speaking up -- at least not without being harshly silenced.
Much of the money O’Connor used in her gambling activities was from a charitable foundation. That’s not a problem in San Diego. Both the City and County of San Diego looked the other way when law firm Wiesner & Griffin set up a charitable trust designating a non-profit whose stated mission is "compassionate coercion" as the ultimate beneficiary. Even the Klu Klux Klan does not have that term in its charter.
The timing of the news is par for this course. Highly paid damage control experts try very hard to release embarrassing news like this at the beginning of a three day weekend. That means those most responsible are unavailable for comment when it is newsworthy and respond with “that’s old news” when they are finally back at work.