Serious criminal probe may be keeping Filner in office

Tim Cavanaugh Contributor
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San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s endurance in the face of mounting sexual harassment accusations may be driven by his need to get out of an even bigger problem: a federal criminal investigation that has received little attention from the national media.

The San Diego Creeper is the subject of an FBI probe of what looks like a quid-pro-quo arrangement with a local developer. In June local media obtained a voicemail Tom Story of Sunroad Centrum Partners left for various city council members regarding a $100,000 “gift” he made to two public projects Filner favored.

At the time, Sunroad was looking to use public land for a project in Kearney Mesa. Story’s strikingly direct voicemail indicates Filner agreed to give Sunroad the easement in exchange for the donation.

“I’d like the council member to know that we have reached an agreement with the mayor’s office,” Story’s message said. “We have paid him the money that was requested and was told that the mayor would support the override.”

The FBI will not comment on open investigations.

But in early July Brent Seibert of U-T San Diego reported that FBI agents had visited more than one city council member about the $100,000 in checks. Other observers of America’s Finest City report that Filner may be deposed in the potential extortion probe August 19.

Filner returned the $100,000 after the news broke, and he claimed he did not realize it was a quid pro quo. While this story of old-fashioned City Hall shenanigans did not fully drop out of the news cycle, it has not received the national attention that is coming the mayor’s way over claims of serial workplace groping and lewd comments.

Whether the federal probe ranks above or below the sexual harassment claims — which have now been made by a total of 13 women — in the list of Filner’s troubles is not clear. But it has given rise to a popular theory about why the mayor persists in office despite overwhelming popular opposition, abandonment by most of the city council and calls for his resignation from higher up in the Democratic Party hierarchy.

Filner may simply be hoping to use the legal resources, clout and other advantages that come with the mayor’s office for as long as possible. Although opponents have tried to challenge his use of city resources to fight his sexual harassment claims, he does appear to be entitled to representation as mayor in the extortion probe.

Staying in office also puts Filner in position to set up a grand bargain of sorts, in which he could offer to step down in exchange for a light penalty in the federal investigation and the city’s agreeing to cover claims and fees related to the sexual harassment charges.

Despite wide popular opposition to Filner in the City on the Move, proponents of a recall are facing an uphill battle in their effort to get rid of the mayor. (Related: Filner accuser 11 steps forward; recall closes in)

Filner did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email. Filner’s media representative has a full voice mailbox and is not receiving messages.

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Tim Cavanaugh