San Diego Wednesday morning, 9:45. Gloria Penner's Editors' Round Table on KPBS. "Isaac Cubillos," she says, "do you agree with Bob Kittle? Do you think our Port District is doing what it is supposed to do?"
"I think in some respects, at least from the economic perspective...the Port District has done an incredible job," says a gentle, careful voice. "But they are also tasked to protect the environment.... In 1994, the commissioners said, 'Let's do something about the South Bay habitat area.' It's been four years now when staff of the commission has been essentially stonewalling..."
It's another erudite discussion among the media's opinion leaders, with Cubillos providing a Latino voice among conservative establishment regulars Kittle from the Union-Tribune and Tim McClain from the downtown pro-business publication the Metropolitan.
You might say Cubillos is a safe choice for KPBS. The editor of Latino Beat, an online and print magazine, has a soothing, all-American voice. He campaigned for Prop 227 (the initiative to end bilingual education) and for 226 (requiring unions get individual members' permission before spending any of their dues supporting politicians). While he has often written effectively against anti-Latino racism in San Diego, Cubillos's voice has become identified with the conservative wing of Latino politics.
Isaac Cubillos has another identity, as an advocate for prison reform. And it turns out he knows prisons well. In 1991 he was sentenced to two years for embezzling nearly a quarter of a million dollars from investors at the company where he worked as a financial planner.
"I thought the guy would be smart enough to get the hell out of town," says Cubillos's former boss, W. Aubrey Morrow, president of Financial Designs Ltd. in Mission Valley. "I can't believe he's dumb enough to do things that would remind people of the fact that he embezzled money and admitted to it. Isaac hurt a lot of people. He did it maliciously. He intentionally defrauded people."
According to court documents, on May 22, 1990, the fraud division of the district attorney's office received a complaint from Morrow that Cubillos, then one of his "financial planners," had embezzled approximately $200,000 from Cecil and Modina Burbank, retired teachers then in their 80s.
"The Burbanks placed a great deal of trust in Morrow and entrusted him with all their life savings," reads a court document by D.P. Madden, a criminal investigator in the D.A.'s office. "Morrow...introduced the Burbanks to Isaac and Cynthia Cubillos, represented to be a financial planning team who could take care of [the Burbanks's] financial and personal needs."
Cubillos presented the Burbanks with a number of documents for signing in connection with the financial planning, says Madden's declaration.
"Owing to the Burbanks's advanced years, they were unable to comprehend all of the documents they signed. Cubillos thereafter proceeded to liquidate various mutual funds held by the Burbanks.... Cubillos deposited $170,000 of the proceeds into his own personal business account, which was in the name of Planning Services Group. He then used the money for his personal living expenses without the express or implied permission of the Burbanks."
Madden states that Cubillos also got the Burbanks to write a separate $30,000 check in early 1989 "for the express purpose of investing the funds in a mutual fund on their behalf." That $30,000 also ended up in Cubillos's pockets.
"I don't want to use the word devastating," says Morrow, "even though it was. In the industry I'm in, all you really have is your reputation. And you can do 99 things perfectly, but that one negative thing can wreck your life. And that was a big one."
"This was the saddest case I've ever had," says Sharon Dodson, the accountant and certified fraud examiner who discovered what Cubillos was doing. "Embezzling is too nice a word. He went to an elderly old couple, who trusted him, who were a little out of it, took their money, and spent it on his lifestyle.
"[The Burbanks] had other money, but in their minds, it made them destitute. I could never convince them otherwise. They were Depression-era mentality people. This ruined these people's lives. When they should have been enjoying their very last years, they were dealing with this lawsuit. They simply didn't get over it. It did Mr. Burbank in. He died in 1993."
Dodson, says the Burbanks were the perfect victims. "They were failing, they had no children or anyone they confided in. They were going to give their money to charity. I think [Cubillos] is an evil person. Nobody had any idea that he was anywhere in town till right now. I assumed he was in jail and then slunk away somewhere. It's amazing to me how people can do things like this and then just get back up and ask people to trust them again."
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I wish to apologize for my criminal acts and to the victims for my error in judgment and deeds.... The crimes I committed were not sophisticated in their execution but as an opportunistic, greedy act on my part. I did this to, in my mind, buy my wife's affection and love. In the end, not only did I end up destroying my career, my character. But most of all lost what I most wanted to keep, my wife.... With my limited formal education [high school and limited college courses] I have gained a great reservoir of knowledge on many different businesses and occupations. I learn quickly.... I can make something of myself, work with the victims' attorney to make repayments and become once again, a positive, law-abiding citizen....
Isaac H. Cubillos
Dear Judge Thompson,
We are elderly people in our 80s who have no chance of replacing that money. This crime has caused us great emotional distress... His crime, while not one of violence to our persons, was one of violence to our well-being and security. We ask that you impose the maximum sentence....
Very truly yours,
Cecil J. Burbank
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Isaac Cubillos is the son of decorated war hero Conrad Cubillos, a sergeant with the U.S. Army in the Pacific war. Isaac was born in Texas but came with his family to live in San Diego at the age of seven. He attended Brooklyn Elementary, Roosevelt Junior High, and Clairemont High. He took a few college-level courses, but by age 19 he was driving a yellow cab. "I don't believe I had any [ambitions] at that time."