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Grand Jury Hears Ex-San Diego Official

The U.S. panel probing possible illegal ties between three council members and nude club receives testimony from the former councilman.

June 07, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A former three-term City Council member Friday testified for an hour in front of a federal grand jury probing possible illegal financial ties between three council members and the owners of a nude entertainment club.

George Stevens, who served on the council from 1990 to 2002, told reporters he was "stunned" at how much information federal prosecutors have amassed on the political and financial dealings of council members.

But Stevens, 71, a Baptist minister, said he remains convinced that his successor, Charles Lewis, did not "knowingly" break any laws.

The U.S. attorney's office here is investigating whether council members Lewis, Ralph Inzunza and Michael Zucchet took money improperly from Michael Galardi, owner of Cheetahs, or anyone connected with the club in exchange for promising to relax regulations on nude dance parlors.

All three councilmen have denied any wrongdoing.

"I can't be confident in anybody else not doing anything wrong but not Charles Lewis," Stevens said. "He worked for me for 12 years. It's not in his profile. That's not Charles Lewis."

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed several City Council aides in the investigation, which surfaced May 14 when FBI agents raided Cheetahs and the City Hall offices of Lewis, Inzunza and Zucchet.

In an interview, Stevens said he received a $3,000 contribution from Lance Malone, lobbyist for Cheetahs, for his unsuccessful campaign last year for the Democratic nomination for an Assembly district in San Diego. Stevens is now a field representative for Assemblywoman Shirley Horton (R-Lemon Grove).

Stevens said he was later asked by an associate of Malone for help in getting the city to change the entertaiment regulations but that he refused.

"It was all about the money," Stevens said of the questioning. "[Prosecutors asked] how I received the money, where was I when the check was written?"

Stevens disclosed the contribution on forms required of state candidates. Lewis and Inzunza also disclosed receiving campaign money from people connected with Cheetahs. Zucchet reported no such donations.

Although U.S. Atty. Carole Lam announced when the raids were conducted that the investigation would be wrapped up "expeditiously," it remains unclear when the probe will be completed.

The grand jury sessions are secret but the jury is known to meet only on Fridays.

"Expeditious may not be very quick," said one San Diego lawyer familiar with the case. "Federal time can be glacial."

A similar probe is underway in Las Vegas where prosecutors and a grand jury are looking for similar links between local politicians and Malone, Galardi and others associated with nude entertainment clubs there.

Galardi and his father, Jack, own a string of nude entertainment clubs across the country. Although the right of entertainers to be naked is protected by the 1st Amendment, the clubs where they perform are strictly regulated by municipal ordinances.

In San Diego, for instance, nude entertainers must keep at least six feet away from patrons. And when approaching customers for money, the entertainers must wear at least pasties and G-strings.

When the regulations were adopted in 2000, Galardi and other club owners complained the rules were overly strict and reduced the earning power of the dancers and clubs.

According to the city attorney's office, all three council members have formed reelection committees that can receive contributions that, in turn, can be used lawfully to pay their legal bills.

Two of the three have hired attorneys who have represented political figures in the past.

Inzunza retained Michael Pancer, who served as the lawyer for then-Mayor Roger Hedgecock during his trial on perjury and conspiracy charges, and Zucchet hired Jerry Coughlan, who represented one of three San Diego judges charged with taking bribes from a local litigator.

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