Brain Tumor Blamed for Mayor's Gambling Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 02/15/13

Ex-San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor stole $2 million to fund her casino debt.

O'Connor "never meant to hurt the city."
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A lawyer for former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor says the gambling addiction that caused her to wager $1 billion on video poker games throughout the 2000s could have been the result of a brain tumor. O'Connor, 66, admitted in court yesterday that she had stolen $2 million in 2008 and 2009 from the charity of her late husband Robert O. Peterson, who founded the Jack in the Box fast-food chain, in order to cover her gambling losses. Her lawyer Eugene Iredale said her brain tumor likely impaired her reasoning; he wrote that her declining medical condition "renders it highly improbable—if not impossible—that she could be brought to trial." Outside the courthouse yesterday, O'Connor tearfully said she "never meant to hurt the city" and promised to repay the foundation, which was driven into insolvency in 2009 by her misuse of the funds. Allegedly, the former mayor was once considered such a high roller that Las Vegas casinos would send a private jet to pick her up in San Diego. But despite being $1 billion ahead at one point, her net loss reportedly stands at $13 million. O'Connor acknowledged that she has a gambling addiction and is financially destitute, and prosecutors agreed to defer prosecution for two years. If she makes restitution, violates no further laws and receives treatment for her addiction, the charges may be dismissed. The crime could have carried a 10-year prison and a fine of up to $250,000. "This is a sad day for the city of San Diego," said Assistant US Atty. Phillip Halpern. "Maureen O'Connor was born and raised in this town. She rose from humble origins.... She dedicated much of her life, personal and professional, to improving this city." 

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.