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— In most big cities, word that a Major League Baseball team had missed the first $45.8 million payment to a "public-private" partnership with city hall to build a $450 million-plus downtown stadium would merit screaming front-page newspaper headlines. Not so at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where columnist Don Bauder's scoop, that the Padres had received a two-month extension from their original payment deadline of March 31 until the end of May, appeared on Saturday's business page. The Saturday paper is notorious among insiders as a place where U-T management parks stories and letters they don't want readers to pay much attention to. Bauder quoted Padres president Bob Vizas as saying the team intends to raise $140 million for its share of the project through a sale of bonds, which has yet to take place. That contradicts a February 16 report in the U-T, under the byline of reporter Jonathan Heller, in which Vizas was paraphrased as saying "the ballclub, which recently received an infusion of cash from a new long-term deal with Cox Communications, will not have to sell bonds to finance its portion" of the deal. City taxpayers are supposedly protected if the Padres renege on the payment by a guarantee from Major League Baseball and bond insurance. But lawyer Vizas, a talented, high-priced corporate litigator from San Francisco, could make things very interesting if Mayor Dick Murphy and the council majority -- which thus far has given Padres owner John Moores everything he's wanted -- try to enforce the contract against his will. If Murphy lost in court, taxpayers could find themselves holding the bag for far more than the estimated $200 million the city has already gone into hock for. Already, a highly placed, sports-oriented Union-Tribune executive is reportedly telling people he fully expects the team to ultimately renege, forcing taxpayers to pick up the entire tab for the project, a move that the paper, he promised, would editorially support ... The next hearing on that First Amendment lawsuit against the City of San Diego by Clear Channel Outdoor, the big billboard company that opposes regulations against booze advertising, is set for May 23, according to federal court records. Settlement talks are reportedly in the works. Employees of Clear Channel gave thousands of dollars to the city council candidacy of Charles Lewis, who is running to replace his boss in District Four, George Stevens.

Widows and orphans A church in Rancho Santa Fe figures in a scandal involving a Cleveland stockbroker who allegedly embezzled $40 million from the accounts of his clients and spent the ill-gotten gains on everything from charitable contributions to a private jet to a New York condo for his girlfriend. He's also charged with inflating by $200 million the value of his clients' accounts to hide his withdrawals. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Frank Gruttadauria, a broker at the local office of Lehman Brothers, sent $135,000 to the Village Community Church at the behest of Elaine Meyerhoff, an 87-year-old investor whose account he handled. Meyerhoff thought the money was from her own funds, but it actually came from the account of another Gruttadauria client, the paper reports. Reached at her Rancho Santa Fe home last week, Meyerhoff said she lost virtually her entire fortune due to Gruttadauria's alleged embezzlement scheme, as did many others. He's being held in jail without bond. The church had no comment.

The Nazi card San Diego Unified school-board member Ron Ottinger, facing a surprisingly strong recall effort, has come out slugging. In a news release dispatched by the district's public relations department last week, Ottinger all but accuses critics of district superintendent Alan Bersin of being anti-Semitic. "I feel I can no longer keep silent about a disgusting aspect of the heightened incivility that has plagued our school district recently. It involves attacks on our superintendent, a man of Jewish descent, that involves images of Nazism and the Holocaust. As a Jew, I resent it. As a human being, I deplore it." Among other offending actions, says the release, is an article on the website of fellow board member Frances Zimmerman "calling one of our classes a 'remedial stalag' " and "a photo of a teachers union activist carrying a sign at a recent district event that says, 'Heil Führer Bersin.' " On Tuesday, Ottinger's release paid off big-time, triggering an editorial in the Wall Street Journal attacking Zimmerman for making Nazi allusions and the teachers union for standing in the way of Bersin's reforms.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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