“Hyped as an epic holiday tradition-to-be, A Christmas Tabernacle in Liberty Station last month turned into a yuletide nightmare,” our Kelly Bennett reports. “Scores of performing groups and small businesses haven’t been paid for their involvement, ranging from carolers and ballet companies to reindeer owners.”

“My deer got Scrooged,” said Diana Frieling, owner of California Reindeer Rentals in central California. “I don’t have the heart to tell them.”

Our story explains what went wrong.

How Corrupt Officials Might Be Forced to Pay

The two officials who engineered a corrupt bonus scheme at a local redevelopment agency are being allowed to pay off some of the money they embezzled, but at a rate that gives them 181 years to reach the total. Many of our readers were decidedly unimpressed, with some wondering if crime does pay.

So we decided to follow up. We’ve examined how the city could go after the dough in a quicker fashion that wouldn’t require the two disgraced public servants to reach the total by giving Methuselah a run for his, um, money.

Funny thing about all this: It might cost more to get the money than the funds themselves. And the two enriched their retirement accounts by hundreds of thousands in illegal bonuses. But a loophole could make the money untouchable.

Guilty Plea in ‘Staggering Swindle’

The man at the center of “Staggering Swindle” mortgage fraud scandal that we exposed has pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Today’s Housing Market Shocker

Our real estate guru Rich Toscano has been such a housing market bear that he eats a lot of honey and hibernates every winter. But now, he has done the unthinkable: He’s bought a house because it seems like — finally! — the right time to buy. That is, it’s the right time for him at least. 

Does it mean housing prices have finally hit bottom? Who knows but Toscano explains his decision on the latest edition of VOSD Radio. Our weekly radio share airs on FM 95.7 and AM 600 KOGO every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and we always post the podcast as soon as possible.

Why Do We Run the Fact Check?

Two years after we launched the feature, our editor took a moment to explain why we do the Fact Check, what we’ve learned from it (hint: a lot) and what you can do to help. (Hint: If you value the Fact Check, please consider making a donation. It takes a lot more time for staff than we ever imagined it would.)

City Approves Big Health Care Spending Deal

The City Council has approved a giant deal regarding health care for retired city employees, “solidifying and reducing a taxpayer-funded benefit that has been in dispute ever since it was promised to employees by ex-Mayor Pete Wilson,” the U-T reports.

The deal is expected to save the city more than $700 million over the next quarter century. See our story from last year for more details and an explanation of why “the specter of past poor pension decisions continues to loom over significant debates about retirement costs.”

Issa, Who Didn’t Finish High School, Declines to Bash Dropout Plan

Republicans were quick to criticize President Obama for his State of the Union proposal that states ban kids from dropping out of high school, Yahoo News reports, but there was a notable exception: Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents part of North County and dropped out of high school to join the Army.

“That could make a real difference in the level of education people get. Do I promote it? Yes,” he said, saying that dropout prevention is better than “getting rid of them at the first possible moment because they become a ‘pest,’ because perhaps they’re not performing well.”

Behind USD Point-Fixing Allegations

An investigation by SI.com raises questions about the point-fixing allegations that have engulfed the University of San Diego men’s basketball team, wondering if they might pass jury scrutiny. Of note: “Gritty, beer-soaked Pacific Beach” gets a mention. 

Report: County Fails to Properly Report Sexual Misconduct

County officials “have been misreporting allegations of staff sexual misconduct to the federal government,” CityBeat reports, and the probation department in particular “also failed to meet national recommended standards, particularly regarding transparency, despite assurances made to the press in 2010.”

The U-T’s ‘Zany Sideshow’

CityBeat editor David Rolland considers the U-T’s Big New Vision for the waterfront and notes that Matthew Hall, one of its “quality reporters, … is spending time chasing the news that his employers have created, despite no indication that the U-T’s proposal is being regarded by city and port officials as anything more than a zany sideshow.”

(As the U-T itself reported, the plan “was not specifically addressed during Tuesday’s hearing” on a different plan by the City Council.)

Rolland also points to our profile of U-T publisher Doug Manchester as a must-read: “It made me think of Manchester as a mega-rich and powerful version of Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character from the ’90s-era Saturday Night Live.”

Subscribe to the Morning Report.

Lawsuit Targets Muzzling of Tri-City Board Member

“A Carlsbad activist has sued the Tri-City Healthcare District, saying the public agency is disenfranchising voters by excluding an elected board member from closed session meetings,” the U-T reports. The board of the district, which runs North County’s Tri-City Medical Center, only allows board member Randy Horton to attend certain closed-door sessions because he allegedly leaked private information; another board member has also been banned.

As I put it in a story about Tri-City’s troubles last year, the board has been struggling in a morass of infighting, accusations and bizarre behavior.

Celebrating the Mormon Battalion

It’s been 165 years since the hundreds of men in the Mormon Battalion — a unit of the U.S. Army during the Mexican War — came to San Diego, and Old Town will celebrate its arrival this weekend, Mission Valley News reports.

The Mormons’ “march of some 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs (in the then-Iowa Territory) to California is one of the longest military marches in U.S. history,” says the Utah History Encyclopedia.

As we told you in a history flashback, the Mormons claimed San Diego as part of the state of Deseret, believing it would serve as a port for a polygamy-friendly empire across the Southwest.

Shark! No, Not in the Water. On Your iPad!

Imperial Beach beachgoers were startled yesterday by a confirmed sighting of a great white shark in the ocean, ImperialBeachPatch reports. Meanwhile, the national media has been gawking at a new app designed by a local institute that allows cell phone users to track a dozen tagged sharks in the Pacific. 

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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