FBI eyes San Diego mayor; his biggest risk may be perjury rap

Happy 237th birthday, America. No, that is not a reference to “The Shining.” Now, onto the news:

Well, that didn’t take long. Multiple news outlets are reporting that the FBI and/or the U.S. Justice Department is looking at a San Diego scandal in which first-year Mayor Bob Filner’s administration conditioned a permit for a project on the developer’s gift of $100,000 to two of Filner’s pet causes. The U-T San Diego has details:

“Federal agents are asking questions about a $100,000 donation to the city made by a developer seeking San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s approval for revisions to a project in Kearny Mesa.

“FBI officials visited more than one city official this week inquiring about the $100,000 in checks, which Filner said last week he returned to the developer, Sunroad Centrum Partners.

“The money was to go to two Filner pet projects, a veterans memorial in Ocean Beach and a daylong bicycling event. According to a voice mail obtained by U-T Watchdog last week, the developer made a connection between the donations and Filner’s support of an easement for the project at Kearny Villa Road and Lightwave Avenue.”

sergent_schultzFilner’s Sgt. Schultz defense: I know nothing

But the mayor’s defense is that this was all news to him.

“On Friday, Filner told reporters he was unaware that a top-level administrator in his office had accepted the contribution as a consideration for the mayor’s support of the project changes. Filner said he thought it was just a good-faith gesture.

“’I thought they were offering a voluntary donation,’ Filner told reporters.

“The official, deputy chief of staff Allen Jones, is no longer with the city, over unrelated disagreements over Filner’s policies and management style.

“Jones [told the U-T] after Filner’s news conference that the mayor knew full well that the payment was given in consideration for approval of changes to a Kearny Mesa project. Jones said he had recommended the money go to parks in Kearny Mesa and did not know how or why the money changed purposes.”

Robin Hood shtick won’t shield mayor if his testimony is false

Will this scandal bring down Filner? Normally, I’d say no way. His Robin Hood shtick — he’s just pushing/prodding/forcing the rich to do what they should anyways — plays well with a lot of people. It’s especially potent in San Diego — a city where most insiders, including some Republicans, believe that downtown GOP-allied business interests have long had more influence over how City Hall works than one would expect, given the clear dominance of Democrats in voter registration.

But will Filner’s belligerent belief that the rules don’t apply to him come back to haunt him in the federal probe?

The chances seem unusually high. If, under oath, Filner continues to deny awareness of the shady deal with Sunroad, he could be in a world of trouble. Literally no one I have talked to in the five days since the mayor denied knowing about the shakedown believes Filner is telling the truth. It’s not just that he is a “notorious micromanager,” in the words of the Voice of San Diego. It’s that no one in his administration makes a big decision without his OK because they know that if it goes wrong — or even if it hits some minor speed bumps — they will be personally villified. It’s the Filner way.

So get ready for a stormy ride. We’ll see a few weeks of headlines that focus on the fact that the U.S. attorney for the San Diego region should recuse herself because of her past issues with Filner.

‘You don’t get free things’ comments hard to explain away

But sooner or later, Filner will be deposed under oath. And if he says that his aide engaged in a classic Filner maneuver — bullying someone without any leverage or power to stand up for themselves — without his knowledge, well, that could produce a political paroxysm in San Diego.

Last month, when the scandal broke, in an interview with 10 News San Diego, the mayor basically 99 percent admitted the Sunroad permit was a pay-for-play situation:

“When Filner was asked whether he was extorting money from developers, this is what he said: ‘That’s a ridiculous word. What we’re trying to do is make sure that people that get things from the city understand that they also have to give things back. You don’t get free things.'”

So it seems to me that the Sgt. Schultz act will be a hard sell with federal prosecutors. We shall see. But after Filner’s seven months of insanity at San Diego City Hall, what’s happened in recent days sure feels like karma.

“You don’t get free things.” Wow.

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