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In 2002, San Diego Superior Court records show, Maruccia was sued by USD for failing to make payments on the $15,000 balance of a law school tuition loan that the school had made to him in August 1991. A declaration filed in September 2002 by USD attorney William Zeutzius alleged that Maruccia and his family had dodged attempts by plaintiffs to serve him with legal papers in Sacramento and San Diego. "At both locations, defendant's mother in San Diego refused to identify herself and the defendant's girlfriend or wife in Sacramento refused to identify herself," the declaration charged.

"This behavior is indicative of Mr. Maruccia and his 'family' members assisting him in avoiding to repay his law school obligations," Zeutzius's statement continued. "Mr. Maruccia will not even make voluntary payments. This behavior is unethical and not becoming a member of the California State Bar."

In response, Vargas chief of staff Colin Rice filed a declaration in October 2002, maintaining that he had been Maruccia's Sacramento housemate and that no woman had ever lived at their residence, as the university's process server had alleged. The case was settled in June of last year with a stipulated judgment of $15,743.99.

Two other creditors have also sued Maruccia in San Diego Superior Court for bad debts. In May 2002, a judgment against him for $16,101.85 was entered in favor of the Educational Resources Institute, a tuition lender. In June 2001, a judgment in the amount of $4490.05 was entered in favor of First Select Corporation, which was attempting to collect a debt run up on a credit card account it had acquired from Wells Fargo Bank. At the time the suit was filed, according to case records, Maruccia was employed by the Fish Merchant on Navajo Road. He did not respond to messages left at his office.

Trammell is listed on state records as a principal with another onetime Vargas aide and ally, Lawrence D. Cohen, in two business entities: a partnership called CC&R Enterprises and a limited liability company called San Diego Vending, LLC, formed in January 2003. Another principal in that venture is listed as Michael Ciaramitaro.

Cohen is a former Vargas city hall staffer and ex-chief of staff for Ralph Inzunza, who himself served as chief of staff for Vargas when the assemblyman was a member of the city council. Inzunza, now 33, began his political career in 1991 as chief of staff to then-city councilman Vargas and served six years there before moving over to Sempra Energy, otherwise known as San Diego Gas & Electric, as a public relations man and lobbyist.

In November 2000, Vargas was elected to the state assembly from the 79th District, which includes Barrio Logan. For more than a year before that, Inzunza had been raising a stash of campaign money to run for his former boss's council seat. Inzunza bested a large field of less-connected opponents and was elected to fill the vacant city council seat in a 2001 special election. Campaign filings for Vargas -- who is expected to make a bid for Congress in the district now represented by Democrat Bob Filner -- and Inzunza and his brother Nick, the mayor of National City, show that they share many of the same contributors.

Last September, the Union-Tribune reported that city telephone records obtained under the California public records act showed that on May 14, 2001, a call was placed from Cohen's desk in Inzunza's city council office to Lance Malone, the Las Vegas-based lobbyist for the Cheetahs strip club. The paper reported that a total of 46 calls were made from various phone lines in Inzunza's office to Malone. Campaign records show that in June 2001, Inzunza collected $5250 for his city council campaign from Galardi and associates.

Malone has since been indicted in the Cheetahs bribery case that also resulted in the indictment of Inzunza. Both men have pled innocent and are awaiting trial. Malone's boss, Cheetahs club owner and Las Vegas resident Michael Galardi, and John D'Intino, a longtime San Diego restaurant manager and a Galardi employee, have both entered guilty pleas to bribery-related charges and are awaiting sentencing. They are expected to testify against Malone, Inzunza, and the two other defendants in the case, San Diego city councilmembers Charles Lewis and Michael Zucchet, who have also entered not-guilty pleas in federal court to allegations that they and Inzunza accepted bribes to weaken the city's nude-dancing regulations.

According to state campaign finance filings, last year Vargas's assembly reelection committee paid Cohen a total of $23,354. The bulk of that, $20,761, was paid on July 3. The purpose of the payments was listed as "Fundraising Events." That same day, Vargas chief of staff Colin Rice was listed as being paid $10,381 for the same purpose.

Cohen not only received money from Vargas last year, he also showed up as a donor to Inzunza. On June 25, according to financial disclosure statements, he and his wife Laura gave $250 each to Inzunza's 2006 city council reelection committee. Most of the $112,063 contributed to that committee through December of last year has been used by Inzunza to defray the more than $100,000 in legal expenses he has incurred defending himself in the Cheetahs case.

Inzunza's 2003 campaign disclosure statement lists Cohen's occupation as district manager of "Scherring [sic] Labs." After leaving Vargas's city council staff and before joining Inzunza's staff in 2001, according to news reports, Cohen had been an account manager at Schering-Plough, a pharmaceutical company. He did not respond to calls.

Besides Cohen and Rice, the largest payee among Vargas campaign vendors has been his longtime advisor and strategist, San Diego political consultant Larry Remer, and his two companies, the Primacy Group and PG Printing and Graphics. During 2003, according to state campaign finance disclosure records, PG Printing was paid $24,297 for "literature and campaign paraphernalia." The Primacy Group received $32,206 as "campaign consultants." Remer's daughter, Alexa Lawson-Remer, got $3840 for "campaign workers salary."

State records show that since 2000, the Primacy Group has been paid a total of $215,752 by state campaigns, $110,225 of that from Vargas's campaign fund. During the same period, PG Printing grossed about $1.7 million from state campaigns, approximately $110,000 from Vargas, and much of the rest from the Yes on 40 campaign of 2002, a $2.6 billion general obligation bond earmarked for environmental causes, and Prop 51, a controversial measure that would have earmarked gas-tax money for highway projects backed by the measure's financial supporters. Both the state League of Women Voters and the California Tax Reform Association opposed it, and it went down to solid defeat.

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