Image: falseStatement: “In 13 of the 15 cities, all but Phoenix and San Diego, at least one member has faced an indictment or investigation for a serious offense in the past decade while in office or soon after leaving office,” according to a Feb. 2 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Determination: False

Analysis: As budget problems pressure politicians to cut from their own offices, the Pew Charitable Trusts examined how those big city politicians stack up against each other. The report compared them on a range of issues including size, turnover, budget and transparency. Like a national test evaluating student performance, the report aimed to serve as a benchmark for measuring city councils. It was widely circulated by major news media, including several local outlets.

But in addressing transparency, Pew inaccurately cast San Diego in a better light than most of its peers by ignoring a major political corruption scandal: What came to be known as Strippergate.

The report said no San Diego council members had been indicted in the last decade.

In 2003, though, federal prosecutors indicted three councilmen — Charles Lewis, Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza — and accused them of accepting campaign contributions in exchange for supporting proposed strip club regulations. The scandal came during a time of remarkable political upheaval in San Diego.

While awaiting trial in 2004, Lewis died unexpectedly of liver disease. A jury convicted Zucchet and Inzunza in 2005, though Zucchet has since been acquitted and Inzunza continues to appeal his conviction and 21-month prison sentence.

After we contacted Pew about the three indictments, Thomas Ginsberg, the study’s primary author, said a corrected version would be published online. “The correct number should be 14 of the 15 cities, including San Diego,” he said. “Purely an error on our part.”

Ginsberg said the Pew survey largely relied on news clips, public records and interviews with local prosecutors in some cities. Somewhere along the road, Pew researchers completely missed Lewis’ indictment and incorrectly noted that Inzunza’s conviction had been overturned, he said.

Although the study appeared to include any political indictment — it said “faced an indictment” — it actually represented a narrower pool. Pew researchers only included convictions or indictments that weren’t resolved before the end of 2010. By that definition, neither Lewis nor Zucchet would be counted, but Inzunza would be.

“Unfortunately the phrasing in our report didn’t make that clear,” Ginsberg said.

Since the statement was inaccurate, even using the study’s narrowed definition, we’ve called it False.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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