Video poker got ex-mayor Maureen O’Connor into a billion dollars of trouble.
Reports published after word came of ex–San Diego mayor Maureen O’Connor’s admission of stealing from her late husband’s foundation to feed a billion-dollar gambling compulsion had it that her game of choice was video poker, which she frequently played at East County’s Barona Casino. That establishment, run by the Barona Band of Mission Indians has long been popular with politicos as a place to hang out and dine, in the main because the tribe frequently picks up the tab for them. So it was in the last quarter of 2012, according to a recently filed disclosure report. But the largesse was much smaller than the tribe usually reports. Only four Assembly then-candidates partook of Barona’s hospitality, and at a much lower level than the casino typically hands out: Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Democrat who was subsequently elected from a Stockton district ($6.90); Democrat Ed Chau, also elected, from Monterey Park ($9.95); another Democratic winner, Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens ($13.24); and yet another victorious Democrat, Ian Calderon of Whittier ($12.20). All were treated to pre-election October meals in the casino’s Sage Café, according to the report.… Meanwhile, Sempra Energy, the giant public utility from San Diego, was saddling up its lobbyists at the “Bluff at Cattle Call Drive” in Brawley, according to the company’s disclosure filing. Gina Vargas, district representative for then–state Democratic senator Juan Vargas (now a congressman), got dinner and a rodeo ticket valued at $29.85, as did Anna Ortiz, field representative for Democratic assemblyman V. Manuel Perez. Sempra bought Frine Medrano, field director for Democratic assemblyman Kevin De Leon, “beverages” worth $16 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles, and shelled out $123.73 so El Centro’s Henry Kuiper, a board member of the Colorado River Board of California, could party hearty at the Palm Restaurant in Las Vegas at a dinner held by the Colorado River Water Users Association.