Money, Flubs, and Lawyers
Amid the tens of thousands of words Bay Area scribes have written about Eddie DeBartolo's recent legal troubles, somehow one obvious question never got raised: Whose idea was it? Sooner or later, I suppose, the wiretap transcripts will be released, and we'll all know how it came to be that some $400,000 of DeBartolo's cash wound up in the possession of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and/or his son. Eventually, I guess, we'll all know whether there is or is not evidence to show that DeBartolo did or did not bribe or otherwise illicitly weasel his way to a riverboat casino license in awful west Louisiana. If I were an S.F. city attorney, a district attorney, an attorney general, or a news reporter assigned solely to this story, though, I'd want to know ASAP who initially proposed using cash for a six-figure "business" transaction -- Eddie D. or Edwin E.?
So far, the general thrust of S.F. press reports has suggested that DeBartolo was a dupe; that he was not a prime mover, just someone who was careless and allowed himself to become ensnared in the corruption of Louisiana; that he was beset by a momentary lapse of judgment, but that lapse will not -- in any way whatsoever -- have an effect on the construction of a new football stadium-cum-supermall at Candlestick Point.
But what if things were the other way 'round? What if the idea of cash on the gaming table came from DeBartolo? Or what if a request that he make a questionable and enormous cash payment was met with the kind of easy acquiescence associated with, say, paying for a pack of cigarettes? What the Grid is really trying to ask are these impolite questions: Does Eddie DeBartolo habitually pay people in (or close to) the government large amounts of cash in connection with the acquisition of governmental licenses or approvals? And do any Bay Area officeholders (current or former) or their offspring have safes full of DeBartolo cash?
Because we realize these questions are quite impolite, we promise to keep the identities of those who answer them most confidential.
While we're asking obvious questions, we may as well address this one to the San Francisco Chronicle: Now that the Examiner has beaten you silly on one of the bigger stories of the year, are you ever going to get in the game? We speak, of course, of a recent Examiner series on the expenditure of some $1 million in City of S.F. funds for various "special events," mostly arranged via city protocol maven Charlotte Mailliard/Swig/Shultz. Examiner reporters did an excellent job of digging up records that show the city reimbursed nonprofit "host" committees for hundreds of thousands of dollars in booze, calligraphy, flowers, bay cruise tickets, and other activities that government really ought not be funding. In other words, the Examiner found a wonderful little slush fund (created at the behest of Mayor Willie Brown) that made a large number of expenditures that might be judged to be illegal misappropriations of public funds.
So far, this important story has had less impact than it should because, so far, the gargantuan Chronicle -- with hundreds of thousands more weekday readers than the Examiner -- has essentially ignored it, playing potentially criminal malfeasance as nothing more than a political dispute between Willie Brown and his nemesis, state Sen. Quentin Kopp. To be sure, Mr. Kopp is on a campaign to make the mayor appear to be "imperial" and out of touch with normal San Franciscans. Certainly, the Kopp vs. Brown feud is news.
But the wasting or misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars is another story entirely, and a much more important one. It's a story that the hazy, lazy editors at the Chronicle should force their semiclueless City Hall reporters to follow and, one would hope, to advance. Or, at least, one would hope the Chronicle might act like a real newspaper and investigate apparent corruption at City Hall, if one were not absolutely convinced that the Chronicle is not a news organization at all, but a home-delivered marketing program cleverly disguised to look like a major metropolitan newspaper.
It'd sure be nice if District Attorney Terence Hallinan lived up to his mouth and investigated Mailliard/Swig/Shultz in regard to the host committee shenanigans. It'd sure be surprising, too.
Hallinan's mouth has long been in favor of increased investigation of public integrity infractions. In 1992, for example, Hallinan could be heard lambasting former DA Arlo Smith for not investigating political crimes. Back then, Hallinan's mouth would tell anyone who'd listen that he was a victim of one of these purported crimes -- a "hit piece" campaign mailer, ridiculing him for his atavistic lefty posing, allegedly organized by Bill Maher, then a supervisor, now a parking czar. Back then, Hallinan's mouth knew firsthand how lazy and incompetent the DA's Political Crimes Unit was. That mouth's yapping about enforcement of political ethics laws continued into the '95 campaign. Hallinan's mouth said things would be different in DA-land if he were elected.
If only the rest of Hallinan did the things his mouth proposes.
Since taking office, Hallinan has done a wonderful job of ignoring the type of potential public integrity cases his mouth abhors. And there have been plenty of targets to ignore: the host committee sleaze; the conflict-of-interest-ridden UC regents, for approving the theft of public assets constituted by the merger of the UCSF and Stanford medical centers; and even his old nemesis, Maher, in regard to the apparent interference of the mayor in a Parking Department contract award. (It's been widely known since early in Brown's administration that a contract for hand-held, ticket-writing computers was killed and then reawarded to Lockheed-Martin, a firm represented by the mayor's longtime buddy and former Assembly aide, William G. "Billy" Rutland.)
We aren't saying these situations are dead-bang criminal cases -- except, perhaps, for the UC-Stanford merger -- but they certainly beg for preliminary investigation by the DA. And a real public integrity probe or two might make us begin to take Hallinan's mouth a bit more seriously again.
To be fair to our district attorney, we must say that he has taken a welcome interest in an important criminal prosecution in his office. As law enforcement sources and the daily calendar at Superior Court criminal division announce, the so-called "Foxglove" poison-for-profit case -- the one involving four deaths, a family of Gypsies, two alleged femmes fatales, and years-long police blundering of mammoth proportions -- is now being headed up by Hallinan himself. A DA source tells us Hallinan took the Foxglove case file home with him early this year, read it page by page, and insisted it be brought to a grand jury. Moreover, we're told, Tim Armistead, the city attorney's investigator who'd been cut out of the probe because of turf battles with police, has been brought back into the fold, with all his evidence in tow. The prosecution will need every bit of that evidence if it is to overcome the repeated, ridiculous faux pas police repeatedly committed during the early years of "investigating" the alleged digitalis poisoning plot. In fact, those errors are so egregious, Armistead's evidence and Hallinan's able mouth may not be able to save the case.
George Cothran (gcothran@SFWEEKLY.COM) AND JOHN MECKLIN (JMECKLIN@SFWEEKLY.COM) WELCOME TIPS, SUGGESTIONS, INNUENDO, AND COMPLAINTS. THEY CAN BE REACHED AT SF WEEKLY, ATTNo The Grid, 185 Berry, Lobby 4, Suite 3800, San Francisco,