Imperial Beach Mayor Brian Bilbray, whose ambitions for higher office are no secret, has enough problems on his hands in the recent past, with his city’s treasury nearly empty and with his beaches closed for the summer due to sewage from Moexico. So the last thing he needed was a phone call several weeks ago from a Chula Vista Star-News reporter inquiring about an incident the previous Friday night in which Bilbray allegedly called a superior court judge and asked him to free a friend of his who was in jail awaiting trial on a felony charge of kidnapping. For the next few days, rumors circulated in the South Bay area that the mayor was using his influence to release felons. The rumors persisted despite Bilbray’s denials and even found their way into Supervisor Tom Hamilton’s office, who demanded an explanation. But Bilbray could not provide one. “It just reeked of a political assassination,” Bilbray says. “It scared the heck out of me, because there was no way I could come back to all those statements.” Within a week, however, things were cleared up: Bob Kaul, owner of the Surfside Motel – the city’s largest – had sprung a friend from jail by impersonating the mayor.
The somewhat bizarre sequence of events: Kaul invited motel guest Stacy Dyer up to his penthouse apartment for cocktails. Dyer, who is twenty-eight years old and who had been vacationing at the Surfside for three weeks with her mother, refused Kaul’s invitation. So Kaul and a friend, Paul Ereth, went to her room with a bottle of wine, hoping an in person invitation might be a bit more enticing. That didn’t work either, so Kaul, in a “playful” move, picked up Dyer and carried her, kicking and screaming, a distance of about ten feet before setting her down and leaving the room. The next day Marjorie Dyer, Stacy’s mother went up to Kaul and Ereth and, aided by two sheriff’s deputies, made a citizens’ arrest against both of them for assault and battery on her daughter. Kaul and Ereth were taken to the South Bay sheriff’s station where deputies decided to add a kidnapping charge due to Kaul’s ten-foot transport of Dyer. As a result, both men’s bail was raised to $8000; Kaul raised that amount and was out within a day, but Ereth was not so lucky and had to remain in jail. Kaul hired an attorney to look into the matter, and by the following afternoon, on a Friday, he learned that the charges against both men had been dropped. A computer snafu, however, failed to notify deputies at the county jail in downtown San Diego, where Ereth had been transferred, and Kaul spent “several frustrating hours” trying to get his friend out. “By midnight, still nothing had happened,” Kaul recalls, “and it was like a Cinderella story – I turned into Mayor Bilbray. I called the watch captain and said, ‘This is Mayor Bilbray,’ and that got his attention. From then on it was ‘Yes, sir.’ I said I wanted to talk to the judge, and five minutes later the judge [Superior Court Judge Mack Lovett] called me back and I represented myself as Mayor Bilbray. I answered the phone, ‘Bilbray here.’
“I explained that the charges were trumped up and the city was being threatened by a lawsuit for false arrest. I told him I’ve known Paul Ereth for eight years and that he’s a major contributor to my campaign, and Bob Kaul is a major tax contributor to Imperial Beach.” According to Kaul, Lovett promptly signed a release order with a personal assurance from “Bilbray” that Ereth would appear on his court date to clear up the matter.
Several days later Kaul heard about the problems his impersonation was causing Bilbray, So Kaul called the mayor and confessed. “I told him, ‘Brian, I know damn well that if I had contacted you Friday night, you would have done the same damn thing.’”
And what does Judge Lovett have to say about all of this? “I probably shouldn’t have believed him,” he says, “but that’s what you get for being a nice guy.”