• Cheetahs
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Ralph Inzunza — the only one of three San Diego city-council defendants in the notorious Cheetahs strip-club influence-peddling case to go to prison — is out with a novel said to be based on his experience behind bars, a place where, according to his new book, The Camp, he finally became "El Mayor."

Ralph Inzunza, circa 2003

Ralph Inzunza, circa 2003

"The protagonist is a law-and-order, nerdy politician, former Deputy Mayor of a large California city, who goes to prison for 'dishonest service of government,' and is feeling sorry for himself until the minute he steps inside the fence," according to the website of publisher Floricanto Press.

"The narrative, at first focuses on the Mayor’s — his nom de la prison — self-realization that his previous life was abruptly destroyed and thrown into literally a cell and bunking with strangers. Then, the Mayor’s survival instincts and political skills lead him to gain respect among his peers and become the consiglieri in situs.

"El Mayor, as he was called by the inmates, narrates for us first-hand the unfair plight that many of his fellow Paisas, Chicano inmates, are suffering, and the impact of incarceration on working-class families of color in America. As the only person of Mexican descent at the camp with a college degree, who had never smoked a 'joint' in his life, he begins to transform in order to survive, and eventually extract his own judicial revenge."

The publisher's version of Inzunza's downfall at the hands of the feds has it that the aspiring politico "ran for a seat on the San Diego City Council in 2001 as a vocal advocate for the downtrodden and the Latino community. After two years of elective office, the downtown power brokers decided they had seen enough of his activism. In 2003 the FBI raided his office, and he was indicted on frivolous charges, 'dishonest service of government.' He fought the charges for nine years, eventually lost, and was forced to surrender in January of 2012."

Casey Gwinn

Casey Gwinn

As first reported here, the story of Inzunza's path to the slammer begins back in 1999, when born-again Republican city attorney Casey Gwinn joined forces with a Cincinnati, Ohio-based anti-pornography group, to push for the so-called Nude Entertainment Business Ordinance and its "six-foot rule," barring strippers from getting closer than that to their customers.

Following passage in 2000, the measure caused a contretemps among the city's strip-club proprietors, who noted that one of them, known as Cheetahs, was flaunting the law with impunity, its parking lot packed with the Jaguars, Cadillacs, Corvettes, and Porsches of well-heeled customers eager to make contact with the merchandise.

After the FBI's city hall raid in May of 2003, the lack of enforcement at Cheetahs was revealed to be just a small part of a sweeping undercover bribery investigation mounted in Las Vegas and San Diego against the strip club and its operator Michael Galardi, whose adoptive father Jack was known as king of the country's nude-entertainment industry.

Three months later, Inzunza, along with fellow Democrats Michael Zucchet and Charles Lewis, were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges they had secretly conspired with Galardi and his associates to repeal the six-foot rule.

Michael Zucchet

Michael Zucchet

"It was the purpose and object of the conspiracy to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud [and] to deprive the City of San Diego, its City Council and its citizens of their intangible right of honest services of their public officials, including City Council Members and a San Diego Police Officer, to be performed free from corruption, favoritism, fraud, bribery, undue influence, conflict of interest, and deceit," per the indictment.

"It was further part of the scheme that defendants INZUNZA, LEWIS and ZUCCHET would seek and accept money... and would agree to be corruptly influenced in the performance of their official duties, to advance the repeal of the no-touch provision."

The defendants, absent Lewis (who died before trial), denied the charges, arguing they had been set up by the government. Both were convicted in July 2005.

Charles Lewis

Charles Lewis

Then, in November 2005, U.S. judge Jeffrey Miller threw out most of Zucchet's conviction, saying that the jury that found the councilman guilty had relied on questionable evidence, including testimony by strip-club owner Galardi. Feds subsequently dropped the remaining two charges, and Zucchet went on to become a city labor leader and now sits on the Port Commission.

Inzunza — who in 2003 alone raised more than $106,000 for his legal defense fund from an array of well-heeled lobbyists, including Republican Paul Robinson, David Nielsen of MNA Consulting, Cox Cable's Bill Geppert, and Bernie Rhinerson and Al Ziegaus, along with wife Connie Ziegaus, of Southwest Solutions — fought on.

"What he does for a good part of his days is meet with persons who have interests in legislation, including lobbyists, and he visits with them, and he is lobbied by them," said his criminal lawyer Michael Pancer of Inzunza's daily luncheon jaunts to Dobson's and the Grant Grill, among other tony eating emporiums, some bugged by the FBI.

The lawyer argued that such activity was not illegal as long as no money — with the exception of properly reported campaign contributions — changed hands.

But Inzunza's bid to overturn his 2005 conviction fared poorly at the 9th District Court of Appeal in September 2009.

"There was no absence of very explicit promises, made directly to the person delivering the contributions, regarding actions Inzunza would take toward repealing the No-Touch ordinance,” wrote judge William C. Canby Jr., as reported by the Union-Tribune.

In particular, the 34-page ruling cited differences between Inzunza and Zucchet in their dealings with Las Vegas lobbyist and Cheetahs bagman Lance Malone, convicted of bribery and related charges in the case.

“The evidence suggested a deal between Inzunza and Malone, but no such express understanding involved Zucchet," Canby held. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Inzunza's appeal, and he was dispatched to prison in January 2012, not to be released until August 2013.

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monaghan Sept. 15, 2017 @ 3:35 p.m.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. Who said that?

Anyway, moving on, I've read "The Camp" in one sitting and it was fun -- our hero is nicknamed "El Alcalde" by fellow inmates who are small-fry Latino gangbangers, doing a long time for pushing drugs. Inzunza ultimately expresses sympathy for them, believing their life circumstances and punishment exceed their crimes.

He'll be discussing his book at Warwick's Bookstore in La Jolla on October 6 at 7 p.m.


nostalgic Sept. 15, 2017 @ 3:59 p.m.

The tragedy of that time with Democrats on the city council is still with us today. Michael Zucchet might have been mayor, and Charles Lewis might still be alive. Before becoming a councilman, Charles Lewis served as chief of staff for former Councilman George Stevens. Rev. Stevens used to roar up to the Morse High School pep rally in his little Mercedes sports car (driven by Charles Lewis), and leap onto the stage where he led the cheers. He would close by saying 'Sorry to leave - I have to go to Lincoln High School now." Lincoln was the arch-rival of Morse, and the crowd would roar with laughter. It was a different time. George Stevens served from 1991 through 2002. Those were different times. Skyline was a different place.


monaghan Sept. 16, 2017 @ 1:04 p.m.

Actually, Ralph Inzunza was on track to be the first Latino mayor of San Diego, until youthful hubris brought him down. Opportunities lost.


AlexClarke Sept. 15, 2017 @ 6:43 p.m.

Looks like Inzunza was the fall guy for the other two.


nostalgic Sept. 15, 2017 @ 7:27 p.m.

Zucchet was convicted, but his was over-turned on appeal. And remember the greater tragedy - Charles Lewis died during all this.


monaghan Sept. 16, 2017 @ 1 p.m.

No, Inzunza was the leader of the pack, which is why he got sentenced, even after appealing for nine years.


JustWondering Sept. 15, 2017 @ 7:56 p.m.

Next thing ya know Inzunza will be shopping for a movie deal. Hopefully he won't try what Barry Minkow did and finance it himself. Or maybe he can get his Las Vegas connections to front him some more cash. Slimy politician in public, private and prison to boot, just what we need.


dwbat Sept. 16, 2017 @ 1:39 p.m.

Cash from his Vegas connections? They don't like cheetahs in Vegas! :-)


JustWondering Sept. 16, 2017 @ 4:39 p.m.

Former police officer and Clark County Commissioner Lance Malone was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for his role in bribing San Diego city officials. Malone had been convicted on 37 charges.

You don't really believe they aren't connected, do you?


nostalgic Sept. 19, 2017 @ 8:34 a.m.

Do not forget that this was the scandal that set the stage for Kevin Faulconer's rise in local politics.


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