U.S. investigating $100,000 donation, Channel 10 says

Will it also investigate Sunroad?

Channel 10 has just reported that the U.S. Attorney's office will look into the $100,000 donation made to the City of San Diego in exchange for public land. The TV channel quoted unnamed sources within the Department of Justice. The station's report seemed to indicate that investigators are most interested in the actions of Mayor Bob Filner. But will the U.S. Attorney's office investigate Sunroad? It made the payment.

This whole incident appears to stink, but I suspect it is common, and may well be legal. On June 30 on this blog, I reported how Manchester Financial Group, which is building a luxury hotel in Austin, Texas, in seeking a favorable rezoning agreement from Travis County, agreed to donate $750,000 to one of three nonprofit entities: Waller Creek Conservancy, Austin Parks Foundation, or "another nonprofit entity or organization with a similar mission," according to the county's declaration that recorded the deal. This appeared to be a quid pro quo that was made official in county documents. Since as far as we know none of the money went into Filner's pocket, what is the crime? Some say that under federal law, even if the recipient of quid pro quo money does not pocket it himself or herself, it is still illegal. What we need to know is how common such deals are.


The City has the legal right to sell or not sell an easement to a private developer. The city should have hired an appraiser to value the easement, and asked Sunroad to pay fair market value (probably well north of $1 million). Filner should not have been directly involved in the negotiations, except when it came time to vote on the deal. Filner got far too little. I don't think he ever intended to keep the money. The payment could never be kept secret. I don't see how this is extortion. That easement allowed Sunroad to cram more apartments on the lot. Sunroad's profit from the easement was far more than $100,000. Filner's trampling on the rules is not a crime.

The city cannot sell anything if it is not done in a fair process, excluding everyone from participation and only allowing Sunroad to bid/buy is a violation.

SurfPup: One thing that bothers me is the Filner aide -- now departed -- who according to Filner made the deal had been with developers. Is that why Sunroad got such a good deal? Open bidding: would that apply in this case? Wasn't this a piece of property that Sunroad alone needed? Why would any other developer want it? Best, Don Bauder

Burwell: I can't disagree with you, primarily because you always seem to be right. It doesn't look to me like this is a crime as far as Filner is concerned unless he skimmed some off the top of the payment. Sunroad? I'd have to look into it more to see if what it did is illegal. I agree: Sunroad got a great deal and the City got a lousy deal. Filner -- or whoever made the deal -- was a poor negotiator. Best, Don Bauder

After Filner's repeated jabs into Laura Duffy's eyes, she might decide to look at him only, and not the "briber" in this case. Bob has been making enemies at an unprecedented pace recently. Quite a spectacle where Dems are feuding in San Diego.

Visduh: Yes, this could be spite on Duffy's part. On balance, Filner is doing a good job, but his abrasive dealings with people will bite him. He must realize that the downtown overlords want to get rid of him at any price, just as they got rid of Aguirre by smearing him in the U-T. Filner has to change his M.O. fast. Remember, the overlords have control of the print media and much if not all of the electronic media. Best, Don Bauder

Who started the talk - seen here and in a few earlier comments in other publications - that Filner considered taking the money personally, or might have skimmed off the top? First of all, I don't think there is any evidence for that, and it seems almost ridiculous. Secondly, I don't think the checks were ever cashed or deposited. (That said, I am curious where they were stored or held, which this whole thing played out.) I am appalled by way Tom Story contacted the Mayor's office, with this offer. And disappointed that the Mayor's office (Allen Jones) took him up on it. But not for a minute do I think Filner was looking for any personal pay-off. It's just not his style.

photog921: I do not believe Filner had any attention to take any of the money. But the question has to be asked, and I asked it, because I have been in scam reporting for almost 50 years, and have to cover all possible bases. I agree with you that Tom Story should be investigated. In the 2007-2008 scandal, the U-T wrote a piece lamenting that Story's reputation had been harmed by Aguirre. Disingenuously, the U-T completely turned the incident around, making the official trying to dig into this (Aguirre) the bad guy, and Story the angel. It appears the U-T will do this again to protect Story. Incidentally, Sunroad is not just in real estate. It owns a bunch of auto dealerships. Think about it. Best, Don Bauder

I thought about it and noted that one kind of advertising that still appears in the Mill is auto advertising, notably on Saturday. That has to be one of the legs still supporting the shaky newspaper.

Visduh: Correct. There is a long history in San Diego of journalists (not just in the U-T but also on TV) saying something negative about auto dealerships and losing advertising. Best, Don Bauder

I think the issue is that the City Council was prepared to transfer a valuable city asset to Sunroad gratis without any attempt to appraise the value of the asset. Filner could not skim the $100,000. The checks apparently were made out to the city. Filner could not walk into a bank and cash those checks. If Filner was a crook there are safer ways to take payoffs. He could have a charity hire his soon to be wife as a consultant and launder the payoffs as contributions to pay his wife's salary.

Burwell: Yes, there are many more surreptitious avenues for a public official to take money. Some say that under the Hobbs Act, it doesn't matter whether the government official personally gains from a quid pro quo arrangement. This is based on at least one court decision. I question this interpretation. Sanders got a quid pro quo -- thousands of campaign bucks -- in the earlier Sunroad scandal. I return to what I have asked several times: Papa Doug Manchester's Texas operation paid $750,000 to charities when it sought a zoning change for its Austin hotel. This was memorialized in a county document. What is the difference between this and the current Sunroad incident? (For just one thing, $750,000 is a lot more than $100,000.) Best, Don Bauder

The Federal Investigation should also Include City Attorney Jan Goldsmith for allowing the original gifting of public assets to Sunroad.

City Council President Todd Gloria and Lori Zapf for putting the item on the City Council's Agenda without going through legal and correct channels for leases of public easements. By passing both Development Services Department (DSD) and the Real Estate Assets Department (READ) under control of our Strong Mayor Filner.

And the rest of the City Council for not insisting on an financial analysis by the City's Independent Budget Analyst (IBA) before relying on legal advice by the Originating Department, the Office of the City Attorney, that there were no Financial consideration for the City Council vote to waive an administrative Council Policy for Sunroad's private interests.

laplayaheritage: Agreed. An investigation is in order. The light should be shone on Sunroad, Tom Story, Goldsmith, and the council. Best, Don Bauder

Don: At the very least, the Mayor's office should also be under that light, if not Filner himself, along with everyone else you mentioned.

aardvark: Oh yes, as I have written before, the mayor's role should also be probed. I didn't mean to suggest he should be left out. The critical question: how common is the practice of a developer donating money to a government jurisdiction or a nonprofit in return for a zoning variance or some other favor? Actually, if the government drives a hard bargain, it could be an economical way to settle these disputes. Best, Don Bauder

Don: The proper response would have been to LPH, as she was the one who conveniently left out the Strong Mayor (as she likes to call him).

aardvark: One critical question is whether in this alleged investigation the U.S. Attorney's office is lining itself up with the downtown overlords to smear Filner. Remember when Aguirre and two government agencies were correctly chasing Sunroad, and a bunch of prominent San Diegans, including Dumanis, Kolender, and others stood up to smear Aguirre? The overlords smeared the white hat and the U-T actually wrote a piece wailing that Tom Story of Sunroad had been besmirched, poor dear. The question is whether this incident, admittedly poorly handled by Filner, gives the establishment another chance to smear the mayor and cozy up to the company that passed the money. Best, Don Bauder

Don: You bring up another good point. I hope that does not happen this time.

aardvark: The U-T is already using the incident to smear Filner and seems to be treating Sunroad gently. This seems to be San Diego's M.O. Remember the Moores/Stallings matter? John Moores, in seeking support for the $300 million ballpark subsidy, showered gifts on councilwoman Valerie Stallings. The outcome was pathetic. Stallings got a gentle wrist slap and nothing happened to Moores. Best, Don Bauder

Hi Aardvack. Yes of course include Mayor Filner and staff.

"Remember, the overlords have control of the print media and much if not all of the electronic media. Best, Don Bauder"

This has all the earmarks of a well-orchestrated attempt to torpedo Filner. He explained it very well in his June 28th press conference. This conference was very entertaining to watch, as the media reps present were clearly part of the scheme or duped by it. Filner exercised admirable emotional restraint, but didn't pull any punches. It's pretty hard to be restrained when you're beset by a thousand cuts, but he's show that he can do it. Persevere, Bob!

PS: Look into the City Council, which voted unanimously to give away the property.

Twister: It is looking more and more like the overlords intend to make this Sunroad payment a vehicle for smearing Filner. The U-T and some TV stations will help in this effort. Best, Don Bauder

You have to watch Ch 10's latest report on Filner and the $100K to believe it. The reporter Ash badgers Filner during the Friday presser about the supposed investigation. Filner responds politely and firmly with questions about the Ch 10 source, which the reporter dodges repeatedly. Filner declines to respond to what he calls "rumors." Ch 10 encapsulates it all with a big lead, "Filner Dodges..."

Then, amazingly, on their Ch 10 webpage, they quote their secret source as saying that the return of the $100K to Sunroad "shows a consciousness of guilt."

It's the shabbiest, sleaziest reporting ever. Who is the manager of Ch 10? Is the tabloid style directed from the top, or do individual reporters decide to present anything they want?

10News is definitely on the offensive, that's for sure. During the Pen and Paper session one reporter, don't recall her name, grilled Filner on transparency, basically yelling at him at one point. That, plus the transcript release and Faulconer's voice message, shows something is up. --dh

Dorian: From what you and others say, it sure likes Channel 10 is letting itself by manipulated by the downtowners. Best, Don Bauder

BlueSouthPark: If your account is accurate, my guess is that Channel 10 is cozying up to the downtown corporate welfare crowd, permitting the station to be a tool of the establishment instead of a reporting operation. Best, Don Bauder

That Sunroad actually spelled out the quid pro quo on the checks prove that the whole thing is intentional smear, but in fact Filner did nothing for the donations, because his veto and his office had been bypassed before the check was written. At most the payment was for dropping his objections on a matter where his office had been sidestepped. Regardless I would love for the Grand Jury and the Feds to subpoena Sunroad and everyone who took a check from them. I suspect Tom Story might be frog hopping in orange along with the many who took Sunroad money, and if he kept on singing, ten years of City Government might be perp hopping to the his tune. More likely this gets hushed up quickly.

Psycholizard: The question is how common these quid pro quos are.

I repeat once again: In June of 2012, Manchester Texas Financial Group, a wing of Papa Doug's empire, run by his son, agreed to make a $750,000 contribution to the Waller Creek Conservancy, the Austin Parks Foundation, or another nonprofit with a similar mission. This appears to be clearly a quid pro quo in a rezoning arrangement, memorialized in writing by the county. One difference may be that Waller Creek and Austin Parks are related to land beautification. The intended recipients in the Filner arrangement don't seem to be as closely associated with real estate. But is that a significant difference? Best, Don Bauder

I can't see what the Mayor delivered for Sunroad The Council overrode his veto, so his support was unnecessary to their scam. Sunroad erects another illegal building, the council approves the law breaking, and the scandal is supposed to be focused on the Mayor, who stood in the the way of the steamroller, but could only delay the theft. Sunroad might be coconspirator with parts of our city government, Mike Aguirre wanted to investigate the possibility, but Filner would be the last I would suspect. The Mayor seems to be more enemy than friend to Sunroad.

Psycholizard: Yes, but Filner did change his mind. He says that an aide was responsible. Some doubt that. It's pretty clear that somebody didn't do his/her homework. That is certainly true of the council. Mistakes were made, but I think this is one that the U.S. Attorney should not pursue. City Attorney Goldsmith stupidly prosecuted the chalker, obviously without thinking the possible consequences through. Now he and the judge are known throughout the world for their asininity. The U.S. Attorney makes the same mistake at its own risk. Best, Don Bauder

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