Former U.S. Navy rear admiral Jose Luis Betancourt
There's been a bit of a sea battle royal of late between GOP mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer and his putative top establishment foe, newly hatched Democrat Nathan Fletcher, over endorsements from big-time Navy brass.
Faulconer, backed by a bevy of military contractors from the GOP Lincoln Club, including Predator drone-maker Linden Blue — who runs General Atomics with his brother Neil — went first last week.
He rolled out none other than Ronne Froman, an ex–rear admiral who once was San Diego's so-called "Navy mayor" and later assistant to city schools chief Alan Bersin, among many other gigs around town.
She's also Linden Blue's main squeeze, and over the summer appeared at the studios of San Diego State University's KPBS to say that besieged then-mayor Bob Filner had sexually harassed her.
“He stopped me and he got very close to me. And he ran his finger up my cheek like this and he whispered to me, ‘Do you have a man in your life?’” Froman said. “I jumped back. I was very, very startled. And I said, ‘Yes, I have a man in my life.’
"And he said, 'Who?' And I said, ‘Linden Blue.’ He says, ‘Oh, of the Blues Brothers?’ And he says, ‘Maybe we can get together some time and have lunch and he can support me for mayor.’
“I was really rattled, I got in the car with the two guys I was working with and I told them never to leave me alone in a room with Bob Filner again.”
Not to be outdone by Faulconer's display of military might, Fletcher's campaign quickly mustered up its own naval backer in the form of Jose Luis Betancourt, another ex-rear admiral who was also Navy mayor here and worked as a top school district administrator.
"It's rare that we have the opportunity to elect someone with such dedication to excellence and a true penchant for public service," Betancourt was quoted saying in a news release by the Fletcher forces. "I'm confident that Nathan will be a great leader for our city, and I'm pleased to endorse him for mayor.”
Not mentioned by the Fletcherites was a bit of baggage Betancourt bears from an encounter with federal prosecutors following his retirement from the Navy. A July 2007 news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office described the situation:
In October 2005, Betancourt retired from his active-duty position of Commander, Navy Region Southwest, United States Navy. In November 2005, he signed a consulting agreement with Access Systems, Inc.
Access Systems was a member of The Accela Group, a joint venture formed for the specific purpose of bidding on Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance (“SETA”) contracts with the Space and Naval Warfare (“SPAWAR”) Systems Center - New Orleans.
In December 2005, The Accela Group named Betancourt as Chairman of The Accela Group’s Management Board.
The law forbids certain former senior officers of the executive branch of the United States, such as Betancourt, from representing other persons or entities before their former employing department or agency within one year of the officer’s retirement.
SPAWAR officials in San Diego detected Betancourt’s conflict of interest shortly before the SETA contract was to be awarded and, as a result, The Accela Group was eliminated from consideration.
United States Attorney [Karen] Hewitt stated, “Prior to his retirement, Rear Admiral Betancourt was one of the most senior Navy officers in San Diego. The public deserves to know that the awarding of defense contracts is not based, in any way, on the influence that may be wielded by a recently retired military officer.”
FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Kathy D. Leodler commented, “The process by which an organization is awarded a government contract is one that should be handled with the utmost care and diligence. The ideal of the American people to have faith and assurance in the prudent handling of their government's affairs should not be taken for granted.”
Betancourt copped a misdemeanor plea, agreed to one year of probation, and paid a $15,000 fine. A month later, the ex-admiral agreed to leave his post-retirement job as chief administrative officer with the San Diego Unified School District after extracting a settlement of six months' pay, totaling $100,406.