Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
As end of Inzunza custody looms, friend registers as nude entertainment lobbyist
Marco Polo Cortes, golfing companion of former city councilman imprisoned in Cheetahs Strippergate case, signs up to lobby for “adult/nude” industry, city filing discloses
It's been more than eleven years since we first reported here about the unusual goings on at a strip club known as Cheetahs, and a decade since the FBI raided San Diego city hall, launching the infamous bribery case, known locally as Strippergate, that accused three city councilmen and cast a bright light on the city's netherworld of lobbying and inside deal making.
Among the scandal's legacies was toughening of local lobbyist disclosure laws, forcing a bevy of downtown high-dollar lawyer-lobbyists and their influence peddling brethren to reveal the big cash trade that exercises a major say in how San Diego is run.
The only defendant to do prison time in the case, Democratic ex-city councilman Ralph Inzunza, is set to be released from a halfway house in August, ending nearly two years in custody, most of it served in a Central Valley federal lock-up.
Meanwhile, a golfing buddy and long time friend of Inzunza and his family has recently revealed he has begun to lobby at city hall on behalf of a newly created nude entertainment advocacy group calling itself the San Diego Hospitality and Entertainment Coalition.
According to a lobbyist disclosure statement filed by Cortes Communications, LLC, dated June 19 and posted online by the city clerk's office on Wednesday, the coalition includes Red Eye Jacks, Inc.; Knights Kearny Villa, LLC; Midway Venture, LLC; and Show Girls of San Diego, Inc.
Cortes has been retained by the coalition to lobby the city for "fair and reasonable regulation" regarding "any matter related to the adult/nude entertainment industry," according to the filing.
The president of Cortes, the filing says, is Marco Polo Cortes, a longtime figure in South Bay politics and onetime member of the Chula Vista planning commission who previously worked for Democratic congressman Juan Vargas when he was in the legislature, as well as for GOP county supervisor Greg Cox.
As reported here in July 2003, mention of Cortes also showed up on Ralph Inzunza's calendar regarding a foursome at National City's golf course with Inzunza and his brother Mike in February 2002.
In July 2005, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Sweetwater Union High School District's Michael Inzunza's cell phone bill included numerous calls to Cortes.
Inzunza made the most calls, more than 500, to family friend and political consultant Marco Polo Cortes.
His brothers, National City Mayor Nick Inzunza and San Diego City Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr., were also frequently called, as was his father, former National City Councilman Ralph Inzunza Sr.
In past years, Cortes has had a few scrapes with political ethics regulators. In 2000, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission levied a $750 fine for a late filing by Cortes's city council campaign committee; in 2009, the San Diego city ethics commission reached a stipulated agreement which required Cortes to pay $200 for failing to file his lobbying disclosure report for February 2009 on time.
Clients include Profile Research and Marketing, which is owned by Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda, and Sky Vision Media Network, which Cortes once said he co-owned with his brother, Cesar Cortes.
Marco Cortes did not list how much he was paid by any client. In an interview, Cortes would not elaborate on what he does for clients.
However, some aspects of his work have become public.
In one case, a state audit released in June 2004 criticized how the Metropolitan Water District hired Cortes and other consultants. The district hired Cortes, at a cost of $155,000, to ease its access to local decision makers.
Of the water district's 726 consulting contracts active during fiscal year 2002-03, 67 percent were not put out to competitive bid, according to the state audit. The district paid more than $1.5 million to five local consulting companies from April 2001 to July 2004.
Cortes has also done campaign consulting.
In 2004, he was paid $1,100 by the Citizens for South Bay committee, which was set up to promote a public safety bond in National City.
The committee was established by National City Mayor Nick Inzunza, who spent $5,000 of committee money on behalf of George Stevens, who was campaigning for a San Diego City Council seat at the time.
When asked earlier this year what he did for the committee, Cortes said, "It was a variety of issues in the election cycle." He said he couldn't recall details.
More recently, Cortes has been a donor to San Diego city campaigns, including $750 to Bob Filner for Mayor 2012 and $500 to last year's re-election bid of city councilman Todd Gloria, according to data made available online by the city clerk's office.
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