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In early October 2014, pollster John Nienstedt presented the Republican Party with an analysis of the 52nd District congressional race.
It did not look good for the incumbent, Democrat Scott Peters. His Republican challenger, Carl DeMaio, was up by 7 points.
But a scandal was brewing. Todd Bosnich, a former DeMaio employee, had accused the candidate of sexual harassment and said he was offered money and a job to stay quiet. CNN broke the story that week, making it a national narrative.
At that point, Neinstedt told the party that the fundamental nature of the election was lined in DeMaio’s favor.
“I remember saying that the only thing left that could change things was something personal — some kind of attack,” he said. “The way for Carl to lose was no longer through anything but reputational destruction and that’s what happened.”
By the next month, after the election, another accuser had come forward and DeMaio lost the race by 3 points.
It’s not clear whether it was just the scandal that cost DeMaio the race. Many Republicans like former Mayor Jerry Sanders and current Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who rallied for other local Republicans like now-Councilman Chris Cate, did not make similar pushes for DeMaio, although some could surmise the failure-to-rally was linked to the political hangover that came after former San Diego mayor Bob Filner resigned from office in August 2013.
Another poll had more positive readings for Peters.
“Peters won a clear and decisive victory. To say DeMaio lost due to the allegations or the media is sour grapes,” wrote center-right analyst Vince Vasquez from National University.
But Bosnich’s accusations certainly didn’t help. And it turns out that at least one key part of his allegations — that he was threatened by DeMaio — he has now admitted was a lie.
He admitted in federal court that he fabricated emails and handed them to investigators looking into his claims of sexual harassment. And that may now land him in jail.
According to prosecutors, Bosnich set up a fake email account on June 5, 2014, and sent three emails to his own account in the days to follow. At least one suggested he would never work in politics again if he didn’t stop making claims against DeMaio.
Bosnich pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 31.
So that’s one piece of the puzzle. But there are still plenty of other pieces missing: When, exactly, was Bosnich let go from the DeMaio campaign? His account and the DeMaio team’s never lined up. Here’s where we left things:
DeMaio says Bosnich was fired May 12.
DeMaio’s spokesman, Dave McCulloch told me in a statement: “On May 12 the campaign manager told Bosnich that he no longer was an official part of the campaign and would no longer be given paid work.” …
[Bosnich] says he confronted DeMaio on May 18 about sexual harassment.
The next day, May 19, Bosnich says, he showed up to work and the campaign manager, Knepper, told him he was fired. He says Knepper asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If he did, he could collect $50,000.
Thus, this date — May 19 — is non-negotiable. If Bosnich is wrong about the date, then his entire story is questionable.
Then there’s perhaps the biggest missing puzzle piece: Bosnich’s original accusation that DeMaio made a sexual advance toward him. His guilty plea on the emails doesn’t answer this question – the U.S. attorney’s statement announcing the plea even admits: “The reason for his termination, as well as the events that occurred immediately before and after his termination, are a matter of dispute.”
Bosnich isn’t speaking to the press and attempts to contact his attorney, Frank Vecchione, have been unsuccessful.
What we do know is that approximately two weeks after Bosnich was fired, he approached Peters’ campaign manager MaryAnne Pintar to pass on “campaign strategy and campaign-specific information” about his former employer.
Pintar told investigators she didn’t respond to the first round of emails since she wondered if they came from the DeMaio staffer that had been let go for plagiarism.
It wasn’t until he sent a subsequent message, saying he was trying to find the courage to file a police report “in an attempt to keep the DeMaio campaign from winning and being able to further harass and violate their employees,” that she started to take notice.
According to language in the federal complaint, Pintar delivered the emails to the San Diego Police Department on May 31, 2014, because “they included allegations regarding possible threats and sexual harassment.” She also thought there could be a connection between the emails and a May 27 burglary that took place at DeMaio’s campaign headquarters.
SDPD investigators first reached out to Bosnich later that day. That was the first time he discussed his claims with law enforcement.
The only thing Bosnich was missing at that point was proof; but fabricating that proof is what drew the attention of federal investigators.
The Lie That Got Too Big
In late October 2014, news outlets began reporting that the FBI was interviewing witnesses linked to the alleged harassment case.
The FBI wasn’t interested in the harassment itself but the three “smoking gun,” emails that Bosnich had been discussing with the San Diego Police Department and the media.
Were Bosnich actually receiving threatening emails from DeMaio or an associate, it could be a federal crime.
According to the federal complaint, the FBI informed Bosnich that lying to federal investigators was a crime during an interview on June 16, 2014, yet he reiterated the same story during a subsequent interview with the FBI in mid-October.
Bosnich does seem to have panicked when key evidence released to the public showed his house of cards had started to fall.
On Nov. 7, 2014, NBC 7 San Diego and the U-T successfully persuaded a judge to unseal San Diego police search warrant affidavits in their investigation into a break-in at the DeMaio campaign headquarters.
The affidavits show that Bosnich claimed his mother had received a nasty call from DeMaio in late May, saying that “[his] career would be over if he said anything. In a later interview, Bosnich’s mother denied remembering receiving that call.”
The night those affidavits became public, Bosnich’s mother called police to their home.
Bosnich was accused of disabling his mother’s phone and throwing a drinking glass at her; he was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, battery and disabling a phone line.
Prosecutors chose not to pursue the case.
Bosnich has not publicly recanted his allegations of what happened between him and DeMaio. Justin Harper, the second accuser who left DeMaio’s campaign in good standing, hasn’t made any public comments indicating his story’s changed. Calls to Harper were not returned.
But Bosnich’s story has holes, as we’ve explored here. And now he has been forced to admit he was lying about a major part of what he said followed his firing from the campaign.
Throwing mud at a candidate during a political campaign is not a crime; had Bosnich stuck to allegations it’s unlikely he would have found himself standing in federal court. But lying to police, the FBI and fabricating evidence? That’s what took him down, and it’s what’s thrown his entire story into question.
Disclosure: In 2009, the author of this post worked as editor of the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, which is published by Carl DeMaio’s partner, Jonathan Hale.