'Strippergate Scandal' Stirs Up City Hall

Councilmen Accused Of Taking Bribes

Federal prosecutors released more evidence Friday that they say proves two San Diego City Council members accepted bribes from a local strip club owner.

It's the scandal that shook San Diego City Hall. For the first time ever, federal agents raided the office of San Diego city officials.

"Public corruption does exist in the city of San Diego," said FBI Agent Dan Dzwilewski in May 2003.

Three councilmen -- Ralph Inzunza, Michael Zucchet and the late Charles Lewis -- were charged with taking bribes worth more than $70,000 for votes to allow alcohol in San Diego's nude strip clubs.

"All of the money that I received was campaign money -- I repeat, campaign money. There have been no bribes," said Inzunza in August of 2003.

"The United States Attorney's Office has failed to provide me with any evidence -- not one piece of evidence -- to support any allegations of any crime," Zucchet said in August of 2003.

Zucchet and Inzunza have said little since the initial charges were brought almost two years ago. Charges against Lewis were dropped after he passed away last year.

Much of the evidence against the councilmen was allegedly collected through what one defense attorney described as more than 100,000 illegal wiretap intercepts.

"In these tapes, you will clearly see that there has been no political corruption here in San Diego," said the defense attorney.

Four weeks ago, the defense asked to drop the bribery charges for lack of evidence.

But late Friday, prosecutors filed a response. In it are transcripts from conversations that Inzunza and Zucchet allegedly had with strip club owner Michael Gilardi's associate, Lance Malone.

Some of the excerpts from the governments response reveal what the U.S.Attorney's Office feel are reasons for continuing the case against the two councilman. Below are some of the excerpts.

Excerpt 1: Malone: "Cause now we have (Lewis), we have Ralph Inzunza, and then Zucchet."

Galardi: "We hope we do, (laughs)."

Excerpt 2: Malone: "I'm sure Mr. Lewis is gonna be wanting some more cashola."

Galardi: "What's the total I've given the guy?"

Malone: "$10,000."

Malone: "Then we helped out Mike Zucchet."

One exchange between the men was how Inzunza could raise the issue on the no-touch ordiance in committee hearings. They suggested creating phony e-mail requests from Inzunza constituents.

Malone: "Ralph now can say, 'Hey, I've been getting a couple of e-mails about, you know, adult use ordinances.'"

A federal judge will hear arguments on the bribery charges early next month.

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