Back in Richard Nixon's presidential days, San Diego's most infamous saga of family loyalty involved the powerful Alessio clan, popularly viewed as the border town's version of the Corleone family. Progenitor Johnny Alessio, the big-money henchman for banker and Nixon campaign financier C. Arnholt Smith, wound up in federal prison for income tax evasion in 1971. And that was only the start.
While doing a three-year stint at the lockup in Lompoc, Johnny was visited by his son Bud, and an assortment of "business associates" from Alessio’s Caliente race track in Tijuana, chauffered to the prison by Leonard W. Gilman, southwest regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the New York Times reported in November of 1972.
"Alessio, a millionaire banker, race track owner and book maker, is described by the Federal authorities as having been close to Meyer Lansky," noted the paper. "He was arrested twice previously, for embezzlement and bank fraud, and both cases were dropped. His brother and business associate at Caliente, Russell Alessio has been convicted of racketeering."
Other Alessio family prison activities, it came to light in a December 1972 indictment, included on and off-premise cavorting by Johnny and brother Angel — also serving time on a related tax rap — with prostitutes.
Prison officials who enabled the carnal commerce were charged with receiving Alessio-sourced bribes, including fishing trips, along with "lodging, food and entertainment," and hookers.
Johnny's son Dominic, known on the street as Bud, was convicted in 1973 of masterminding the scheme to enliven his father's time behind bars, and ended up logging five months of a six-month sentence. Fifteen years later, seeking a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan in October 1988, Bud called on a phalanx of friends in San Diego's Republican business, political, and law enforcement establishments to write letters on his behalf.
"Bud was a victim of circumstances and did what any son would do for his father," said chief of police Bill Kolender. “He deserves a chance for a new start. I think he’s a good guy.”
Other influentials providing testimonials, reported the Los Angeles Times in October 1988, included San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy; Gerald J. Lewis, then a state Court of Appeal justice; Thomas B. Day, president of San Diego State University, and Leo T. Maher, bishop of the San Diego Catholic Diocese."
Skeptical rank-and-file lawmen had another take, postulating a byzantine maze of hidden quid-pro-quos. "That's the way he (Bud Alessio) operates," Lenard Wolf, lead FBI agent on the bribery case told the Times. "You know, scratch my back, I'll scratch your back. Butter up people who can do favors for you when you need them."
Johnny Alessio died in April 1998 at 87, leaving behind widow Edna, three daughters, son Bud, 15 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, all residing in La Mesa, according to his New York Times obituary. The survivors have thrived, hewing close to Johnny's first rule, take care of your friends well.
Among those looked after by Bud was Bonnie Dumanis, the former district attorney who has just stepped aside to make way for her deputy, Summer Stephan, to assume the office and the political advantage the incumbency in next year's election.
The widely-criticized maneuver harkened back to a similar mid-term resignation by Alessio-backed then-sheriff Bill Kolender to clear the way for his county supervisors-appointed successor, ex-FBI man Bill Gore, also an Alessio favorite, to run as the incumbent.
These days Dumanis heir Stephan is the beneficiary of $2100 of campaign cash from Alessio family members, including $800 from Dominic. That ranks the Alessio clan high among family groupings backing the new D.A.’s election bid, per an analysis of her recently filed campaign disclosure information with the county registrar of voters.
In first place with $4000 is the Turk family, whose primary enterprise is KD Development, run by patriarch Mike Turk, a onetime backer of fallen GOP San Diego mayor Roger Hedgecock. In April 1984 Turk and his construction company foreman were sentenced to five years of probation for labor code violations leading to the deaths of two workers in an October 1982 cave-in.
The Stephans came up with $3900, including $800 from San Diego deputy city attorney Rayna Stephan and $790 from self-employed lawyer Jeannette Stephan.
Overall, those who identified their occupation as lawyers or attorneys were responsible for contributing about a quarter of the total $204,443 so far collected, according to the data analysis.
The highest-ranking law firm was Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman, with lawyers there giving a total of $3450, followed by Procopio at $2500. Many family members of attorneys contributed, the data shows.