Some important news that we couldn’t get to as we chased down the big redevelopment/Chargers stadium story: Former San Diego City Councilman Michael Zucchet’s legal ordeal is over. Federal prosecutors decided Friday not to seek a retrial of Zucchet on pay-to-play corruption charges known as Strippergate.
From Friday’s L.A. Times:
The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego has decided not to seek to retry former Councilman Michael Zucchet on charges involving political contributions from the owner of a strip club.
Then the case burst into public view in 2003, it hinted at a culture of corruption at San Diego City Hall in which political favors were traded for money.
But the case proved to be built on weak evidence, a strained interpretation of the law and questionable conduct by federal prosecutors.
Three members of the City Council and a top aide were indicted for their supposed roles in offering to have the council overturn the city’s “no-touch” law that banned lap-dancing at nude entertainment establishments — a law the strip club said was hurting its profits.
The contributions had been reported on the council members’ financial disclosure forms. And no repeal of the law was ever introduced. Still, federal prosecutors asserted that the officials had violated the “honest services” provision of the law in meeting with the strip club owner’s lobbyist.
A federal jury convicted Zucchet and fellow Councilman Ralph Inzunza in 2005, but a U.S. district judge threw out Zucchet’s conviction. Last year, an appeals court upheld the judge’s decision. Inzunza was sentenced to 21 months in prison, but remains free on appeal.
Prosecutors could have retried Zucchet on two counts related to a broad anti-fraud law commonly used in corruption cases. But over the summer the U.S. Supreme Court decided to restrict the law’s use in an unrelated case.
Zucchet currently serves as the head of City Hall’s white-collar employee union. Here’s a Q&A I did with him last fall.