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School official is guilty

The ex-admiral, a top exec in the San Diego district, admits he broke rules on lobbying.

July 12, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A retired Navy admiral now serving as a top official with the San Diego school system pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of violating anti-lobbying rules by trying to help a private firm land a Department of Defense contract.

Retired Rear Adm. Jose Luis Betancourt Jr., 58, was sentenced to one year of probation and a $15,000 fine. In a brief appearance before Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes, he described the incident as a profound lapse in judgment for which he was sorry.

Betancourt admitted that within a year of retiring from the Navy he had joined the management board of the Accela Group, a New Orleans-based high-tech firm, and began helping the company try to land a $300-million contract with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego.

A contracting officer noticed that Betancourt had violated the one-year "cooling-off" period required of former high-ranking government officials before they can lobby the government, Assistant U.S. Atty. William Cole said. The firm did not get the contract.

Betancourt remains chief administrative officer for San Diego schools. Before his retirement in 2005 he was commanding officer of Region Southwest, which is responsible for Navy facilities and installations throughout Southern California.

The charge could have brought a one-year prison sentence and a $100,000 fine. Betancourt pleaded guilty on the day the charge was levied.

In his 33-year Navy career, Betancourt served as an intelligence officer with NATO, headed the Navy's mine-warfare program and commanded a destroyer during the Persian Gulf War.

As a naturalized citizen from Mexico, he often attended citizenship ceremonies for U.S. military personnel. He spoke movingly of the opportunities the United States and its military service offer immigrants.

In a statement issued after his plea, Betancourt said he owed an apology to the Navy, the school district and residents of San Diego. "This has been a most humbling experience that I will never repeat or forget," he said.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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