Mister District Attorney

— The name of the biggest campaign-money launderer in San Diego history has turned up on the list of contributors to District Attorney Paul Pfingst's reelection bid. Frank Gatlin, a shopping-center developer based in Del Mar Heights, gave the DA $500, as did Gatlin project manager Rich Ruff, according to records on file with the county Registrar of Voters. Back in September 1996, Gatlin and his firm Gatlin Development agreed to pay a $192,000 fine for orchestrating a scheme to funnel more than $28,000 in 108 individual campaign donations to San Diego City Council members and county supervisors during an 18-month period between 1992 and 1994. Gresham, Varner, Savage, Nolan, and Tilden, a San Bernardino law firm retained by Gatlin, aided the plot by reimbursing the firm's attorneys, staff members, spouses, and business associates for contributions they made to campaigns designated by Gatlin. City and county laws forbid corporate donations and at that time limited contributions to $250 a person per election cycle. "The violations were clearly part of an organized scheme to build influence with decision makers," said Ravi Mehta, then-chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which prosecuted the case against Gatlin and handed down the fines. "When taken into account, the enormous number of laundered campaign contributions together with the repeated nature of the violations over a year and a half shows a deliberate pattern of laundering activity." In addition to Gatlin's fine, the Gresham, Varner firm paid $228,000 for its violations. The fines were the fourth largest ever handed down by the state at the time. Gatlin, a well-known developer of large strip malls featuring Wal-Mart stores, had bulldozed his plans through the San Diego City Council despite neighborhood objections. In a written statement issued at the time of the fines, Gatlin claimed that "at no time did I act intentionally to deceive or violate the law. Nevertheless, on behalf of Gatlin Development Company, I accept full responsibility for my actions and want to extend my deepest apologies." All recipients of the Gatlin contributions, including then-city councilman Ron Roberts, who voted for the Gatlin projects, denied knowing that the funds were tainted ... Robert Fellmeth, the ethics law specialist from University of San Diego, also appears on Pfingst's latest campaign-disclosure list with a $300 donation. Last week Pfingst announced that Fellmeth was being hired to investigate the connections between Duke Energy and ex-port commissioner David Malcolm, who was a $20,000-a-month Duke consultant. Other Pfingst donors listed include school district public relations man John Spelich, San Diego City Councilman Ralph Inzunza, UCSD vice president William Taylor, and Judge Peter Deddeh.

Law man Sheriff Bill Kolender, keeping up his blistering political fundraising pace, has raised more than $107,000 as of the latest filing date and has $80,544 cash in the bank, ready to spend against his opponent, sheriff's deputy Bruce Ruff. Recent donors to the Kolender cause include embattled ex-port commissioner David Malcolm ($500); Qualcomm mogul Irwin Jacobs ($500); state Democratic senator Steve Peace ($250); and San Diego City Council candidate and lobbyist Kevin Faulconer ($100).

No account Arthur Andersen, the big accounting firm under investigation for shredding records in the Enron bankruptcy case, handles the books and audits a number of San Diego-based outfits, most notably Peregrine Systems, the troubled software company founded by Padres owner John Moores ... Ex-San Diego mayor Susan Golding went through many staff members in her day, and now one of them has finally hit the big time. Todd Harris, 30, who was Golding's press secretary from March 1997 to January 1998, is joining the staff of Florida governor Jeb Bush, brother of the president, the Miami Herald reports. Harris, who will be the Bush campaign's communications director, is currently working in Zagreb, Croatia, where he is a "political communications consultant" for the Croatian government. After working on Golding's abortive U.S. Senate campaign, Harris joined the failed Republican presidential bids of John McCain and John Kasich before heading off to Europe.

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