SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Grand Jury on Wednesday indicted City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez on 28 felony counts of misappropriating and falsely accounting for public funds by using a city-issued credit card to buy meals for himself and others--including expensive dinners with no apparent public purpose.
Martinez, who has acknowledged "errors in judgment" in apologizing to his council colleagues for his spending habits but has insisted that none of the mistakes were intentional, will be arraigned Tuesday in San Diego County Superior Court.
Conviction on any of the charges would force Martinez from the 8th District council seat that the tall, husky Republican has held since his appointment to fill a vacancy in December, 1982. Each count carries a maximum penalty of four years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
Away on Business
Martinez, who is in Washington on city business, did not return a reporter's phone calls and issued no statement through his City Hall staff. A phone operator at the Mayflower Hotel, where he is staying, said Martinez had asked hotel security guards to keep reporters away from his room after one newsman knocked on his door.
The councilman had no plans to cut his trip short, according to his executive assistant, Paul Grasso.
Martinez's court-appointed attorney, former federal prosecutor Jerry Coughlan, also could not be reached for comment. Steve Casey, a spokesman for the San Diego County district attorney's office, said Coughlan called Martinez late Wednesday afternoon to inform him of the indictment.
The charges darken the cloud that has cast a shadow on City Hall for nearly two years.
They come three months after Roger Hedgecock resigned as mayor after his conviction on conspiracy and perjury charges stemming from his 1983 campaign for the city's top elective office. And it was little more than a month ago that acting Mayor Ed Struiksma withdrew from the race to succeed Hedgecock, citing an ongoing investigation by Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller of allegations that he submitted false expense reports for an out-of-town trip.
$1,880 in Bills
The charges against Martinez cover $1,880 worth of restaurant and bar tabs billed to the councilman's city-issued Visa card for 21 meals between November, 1984, and July, 1985. The tabs ranged from an $8.50 bill at a neighborhood Italian restaurant to a $402.93 check at a popular downtown San Diego political watering hole.
Martinez is charged with 10 counts of misappropriating public funds, 17 counts of making a false accounting of public funds, and one count of attempting to misuse public funds.
Casey said the grand jury had reviewed several more of Martinez's credit card transactions. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Allan Preckel only sought charges against Martinez in connection with the 21 meals mentioned in the indictment, Casey said.
Press accounts in September first brought Martinez's spending to light. City documents showed that Martinez and Rudy Murillo, then his chief aide, had charged about $9,500 in meals to the city in the year ending June 30--more than the combined total for the other seven council members and the mayor's office.
Immediately, people whom Martinez had listed as dining partners in his city expense reports came forward to say they had not eaten the meals the councilman claimed, had not discussed city business or had picked up the tabs themselves.
After those news reports, the district attorney's office began investigating Martinez's spending. After a 3 1/2-month inquiry, Preckel announced in December that a decision on whether to indict Martinez would be left to the grand jury. The grand jury convened to hear the case in February.
Some of the best known of the would-be dinner guests are listed among the 71 witnesses who appeared before the grand jury in 12 days of hearings: Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), Lowery aide Dan Greenblat, San Diego County Supervisor Brian Bilbray, University of San Diego baseball coach John Cunningham, Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox and others.
The owners and managers of some of the area's most exclusive restaurants, city officials, current and former members of Martinez's staff, and a handful of developers with whom Martinez claimed to have dined also testifed before the 19-member grand jury.
Murillo, who reportedly declined to answer the grand jury's questions, remains the subject of investigation for his credit-card spending, Casey said. At Martinez's request, Murillo resigned as the councilman's top aide in December, a few days after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
No one else is under investigation in the credit card probe, according to Casey.
Months before the grand jury launched its inquiry, published reports detailed the circumstances of some of the meals that now form the basis for Martinez's indictment. Some examples: