Maureen O’Connor: Former San Diego Mayor Bet More Than $1 Billion as a Result of Gambling Addiction

The former politician promised a federal judge she would pay back the $2 million she'd taken from her husband's charity in order to stay out of jail.

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Maureen O'Connor
AP / UT San Diego, Peggy Peattie

Former San Diego mayor Maureen O'Connor.

As Maureen O’Connor stood in court Thursday somberly admitting over the course of years that she had bet a total of more than $1 billion in casinos due to her compulsive gambling, it was the sad culmination of an addiction that dismantled a vast fortune and left her broke and in failing health.

The former mayor of San Diego — and widow of millionaire Jack-in-the-Box restaurant chain founder Robert Peterson, who died in 1994 — lost a total of $13 million to casinos, and confessed to taking $2.1 million from her husband’s charitable foundation only to blow it on video poker. But it didn’t end there. Court records show O’Connor liquidated her savings, sold a number of properties, auctioned her valuables and took out second and third mortgages on her home in La Jolla, Calif. — all of it to only rack up extensive gambling debts.

(MORE: Why the New Definition of Addiction, as ‘Brain Disease,’ Falls Short)

O’Connor, who served as mayor of California’s second-largest city in the 1980s and ’90s, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a charge of money laundering, striking a deal that allows her to try to pay the money back to the foundation and get treatment for gambling addiction. “I always intended to pay it back,” she said of the money at a news conference following her hearing. “And I still intend to pay it back. In that period of time I lost my husband, three siblings, best friends.”

O’Connor, 66, suffered a stroke and had a brain tumor removed in 2011; she now lives with her twin sister, Mavourneen, and says she suffers memory loss and sometimes has trouble reading. She blames her gambling compulsion on the tumor. “There are two Maureens — Maureen No. 1 and Maureen No. 2,” O’Connor said at her press conference. “Maureen No. 2 is the Maureen who did not know she had a tumor growing in her brain.”

A wunderkind who was elected to San Diego’s city council just three years after graduating college, O’Connor was once one of California’s most popular politicians. One of 13 children and the daughter of a bookie, she grew up in poverty, worked as a Catholic school teacher and won a seat on the city council in 1971, where she  served until 1979.

With the support of political friends like one-time mayor and future governor Pete Wilson, O’Connor rode into the mayor’s office and stayed in that seat from 1986 to 1992. Among her greatest accomplishments was overseeing the construction of the city’s downtown convention center. After leaving office she kept a relatively low profile, penning a few op-eds for the San Diego Union-Tribune. After her husband’s death from leukemia, in 1994, O’Connor remained a trustee of his charity, the R.P. Foundation. Her personal fortune at the time was estimated to be between $40 and $50 million, her attorney said.

(PHOTOS:  Hard Times Hit Las Vegas)

But records show that beginning around 2000, she began to splurge in casinos in San Diego, Las Vegas and Atlantic City; before long she was in over her head. According to IRS files, O’Connor had more than $1 billion in winnings from the casinos between 2000 and 2009 — but she also reported losses that were greater than her wins.

In order to keep herself afloat — and continue gambling — O’Connor began to liquidate her assets; when that dried up, leaving her with no money to pay her debts, she dipped into the charitable fund’s finances. Starting in 2008, she arranged a series of transfers from the foundation to her personal account totaling $2,088,000.

The transfers left the charity bankrupt and its accounts were closed that same month. O’Connor listed the transactions as “loans” to hide her theft and avoid paying taxes. While O’Connor did attempt to pay the casinos what she owed them, prosecutors say she also knew that draining her husband’s charity was a misappropriation of funds, as they ran against the foundation’s stipulations that money taken from it be used for charitable purposes.

She was caught and charged with wire fraud for trying to transfer $449,000 from the foundation’s account, then using that money to write a check for $100,000 to the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas.

The deal O’Connor cut with U.S. District Judge David Bartick defers prosecution as long as she agrees to pay restitution to the foundation; if she fails to do so she faces jail time and fines. Although O’Connor doesn’t currently have the ability to pay the debt back on her own, she is currently seeking damages over a $7.5 million real estate transaction that went south in 2005. Her attorney says she plans to use any money won in that suit repay the foundation.

43 comments
JohnCarman
JohnCarman

Former Mayor O'Connor still hasn't paid the Restitution and qualifies for PRISON !!! Double standard?? Hell yes !!! How can you pay back over $1 Billion ??? Corruption to the bone!!!

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CitizenRight
CitizenRight

And, not a mention that she is a Democrat.  How nice.  You want to bet that if she was a Republican that it wouldn't have been mentioned?  I would give you 10-1 odds.  Opps. Gambling...

CltNC830
CltNC830

Did she take the money while in office?

tartanredmgb
tartanredmgb

A bigger crime than the gambling loss is that her husband made his fortune selling such awful food to people.  How much obesity and sickness did that cause?  And the low quality minimum wage jobs that they pay in those junk food places is a travesty.  She should make restitution to those who are sick from eating that crap.

portobellogal
portobellogal

@selachos......try researching lying, cheating, adulterous, drug-addicted, gambling-addicted, sex-addicted politicians and radio/tv shills in your teaparty party before you open mouth, insert foot.....  

selachos
selachos

Maureen O'Connor has been a Democratic politician for more than 40 years.

Democrats like to gamble with other peoples' money.

 Get used to it.

KitCat
KitCat

Her late husband would be flipping in his grave, just like one of his Jack-In-The Box burgers. What a mess~!

jewgirl952
jewgirl952

Also the idea that gambling/drinking/drugging/overeating/oversexing, etc. are diseases seems to me to be a total cop-out. The difference between a real disease and these behavioral problems is that a disease cannot be stopped by mere behavior, whereas a gambler, etc. chooses to gamble/drink/drug/overeat/cheat and whatever.  I have a friend who used to be an addictions counsel and I think she's addicted to 12-step programs. Is that a disease or is it something that she chooses to do?

IgnatiusIbsage
IgnatiusIbsage

another limosine liberal is unmasked. it once again shows how the gullible electorate can be bamboozled by do gooder rhetoric and irish mafia morals. o'connor was a perfect example of self serving duplicity. getting off free after a multi-million dollar rip off is unconsionable. good riddance to another progressive loser.

jewgirl952
jewgirl952

I don't know about all that, but looks like Aunt Bee is alive and well!

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

"Although O’Connor doesn’t currently have the ability to pay the debt back on her own, "  she is borrowing money from her friends and relatives and heading back to the casinos to increase the borrowings enough to cover the debt.


IgnatiusIbsage
IgnatiusIbsage

stop the typical liberal ploy of displacing responsibility. she was a grown woman who knew what she was doing. it's what happens when you didn't need to work for your money (which she inherited after marrying a man twice her age who died not too long thereafter). she stole millions from legitimate charities, you know widows and orphans after posing for decades as a do gooder who cared about the poor. living a lie, how sad.

crama
crama

William John "Bill" Bennett (born July 31, 1943) is an American conservative pundit, politician, and political theorist.
He served as United States Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988. He also held the post of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under George H. W. Bush

Bill Bennett had a pretty severe gambling problem where he went through millions of his family's fortune. All this while writing about virtue and moral character.

So, this just proves that to err is human, whether Republican or Democrat. Gambling can become a disease, and in Maureen O’Connor's case, it certainly was, just as in Bill Bennett's as well.

Let us stop being so divided, choosing sides so often and realize that we actually have more in common than not, and work towards fixing this country by finding our commonality not our differences.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bennett#Gambling

cjlogan
cjlogan

Funny how the law works.  I'm not sure how she's any different that most broke people, but apparently she's broke-but-formerly-rich.  So the judge believes that she can pay it back.  Most people would end up in jail for a long time.

RTrue
RTrue

Okay - so she is essentially gambling that she will win the suit for 7.5 million in order to pay back the charitable foundation from which she stole.  Cured? I think not.

KevinHowell
KevinHowell

She looks like Aunt Bea on "The Andy Griffith Show". 

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