José Luis Betancourt
It isn't a secret that a lot of San Diego money comes from military contractors and every so often some of all that federally funded cash is diverted to illegal purposes, stolen, and otherwise wasted.
Now, a prominent figure in one of the city's most famous defense-industry scandals is speaking out against the Barrio Logan community plan in a TV campaign largely paid for by military contractors.
José Luis Betancourt has joined Republican ex-mayor Jerry Sanders in asserting in a U-T San Diego op-ed piece that the proposal would be "a dangerous first step toward the closure of the shipyards and the loss of thousands of good middle-class jobs."
Betancourt knows something about losing a job.
The ex–rear admiral was the government's so-called “Navy mayor” here and worked briefly as school-district administrator. Betancourt — who has lately been appearing in the pages of U-T San Diego, owned by Barrio Logan plan foe and real estate development mogul Douglas Manchester — is a confessed procurement miscreant.
On July 11, 2007, according to a news release issued that day by U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt, the newly retired Betancourt copped a plea to charges of illegally helping the Accela Group — one of his consulting clients — get a fat government contract from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, otherwise known as SPAWAR.
According to Hewitt's release, Betancourt broke federal conflict-of-interest law regarding the so-called cooling-off period, which forbids former senior-branch executive officers, including admirals, "from representing other persons or entities before their former employing department or agency within one year of the officer's retirement."
Said Hewitt, "SPAWAR officials in San Diego detected Betancourt's conflict of interest shortly before the...contract was to be awarded and as a result, The Accela Group was eliminated from consideration."
"Prior to his retirement, Rear Admiral Betancourt was one of the most senior Navy officers in San Diego," Hewitt's statement continued. "The public deserves to know that the awarding of defense contracts is not based, in any way, on the influence wielded by a recently retired military officer.”
As part of his plea, Betancourt agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and do a year of probation.
Three days later, on July 14, 2007, the newspaper then known as the Union-Tribune and owned by the Copley Press — no particular friend of liberal bleeding hearts — called for Betancourt's ouster from the highly paid school-district job he then held.
"Does San Diego Superintendent Carl Cohn really believe that a top school district official who violated federal ethics laws sets a good example for students?” asked the paper.
“If so, Cohn's judgment is as questionable as that of Jose Betancourt, the district's chief administrative officer, who pleaded guilty this week in U.S. District Court to one count of violating conflict-of-interest laws.
"Cohn says he will not seek his top deputy's resignation. To students, this sends the disturbing message that Betancourt's transgression is no big deal. On the contrary, violating federal law is a very serious matter, not something that can be airily dismissed by Cohn or the San Diego Unified School District board.
"The retired admiral should promptly resign and forfeit his lucrative employment contract with the school district. In light of his violation of federal law, there should be no discussion about the school district buying out the remainder of his contract in order to get rid of him. If Cohn and Betancourt refuse to bring this about, then the school board must."
As recommended by the paper's editorialists, the school board subsequently fired Betancourt.
Manchester's re-christened U-T San Diego, currently championing the military contractors’ campaign to undo the Barrio Logan plan, has yet to bring up the ex-admiral's legal transgressions.