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Politicos Prep Legal Defense in San Diego Lap Dance Corruption Case

San Diego – Lawyers for San Diego City Councilmen Ralph Inzunza, Charles Lewis and Michael Zucchet filed their first substantive legal arguments in the City Hall corruption case – dozens of pages that criticize the government and give some indication of how they plan to defend their clients.
In one of the motions, Zucchet’s lawyer asserted what is likely to become a key issue for the defense: The councilmen believed the police wanted them to repeal the no-touch rule at strip clubs.

“We know that the government enlisted a police officer who it appears convinced several people (he never spoke with Michael Zucchet) that the police department, at least at the police officer level, had a genuine interest in changing the ‘no-touch’ law because it took police officers off the street where they were badly needed,” attorney Jerry Coughlan wrote in his motion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat said he had not seen the motions and could not comment on them.

An Aug. 28 grand jury indictment charges that Michael Galardi, owner of the Cheetahs strip club, manager John D’Intino and Lance Malone, a Galardi lobbyist, participated in a plan to abolish the no-touch rule at strip clubs by giving thousands of dollars to the three councilmen.

The ordinance the strip-club operators allegedly sought to change was passed by the City Council in October 2000. It prohibits touching between partially clad dancers and patrons.

The rule, which complements an older law prohibiting nude dancers from being within 6 feet of patrons, essentially outlawed table and lap dancing, which are personal performances that involve touching and generate more money for clubs and dancers.

The indictment also said Galardi, D’Intino and Malone paid an undercover San Diego vice detective, who they believed was on the take, for advance notice of police inspections at Cheetahs in Kearny Mesa. The officer was actually working with the FBI.

Lawyers for the councilmen have said any payments the councilmen received were legally reported as campaign contributions. The councilmen and Malone have pleaded not guilty; Galardi and D’Intino have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others.

Coughlan wrote in yesterday’s motion that the taped conversations turned over by the prosecution so far prove Zucchet was not involved in a conspiracy and did not participate in a quid pro quo.

According to the motion, Zucchet told Malone in one of the taped conversations “that unless the police department supported the change in the ‘no-touch’ ordinance before the City Council, he would not vote for it.”

Coughlan and attorneys Michael Pancer and Frank Ragen, representing Inzunza and Lewis, respectively, filed joint motions asking U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller to dismiss the case.

They argue that the statute under which their clients are charged is vague and ambiguous.

On another matter, in responses to the judge’s inquiry, the attorneys said it was too soon to say whether the case should be declared “complex” under the provisions of the Speedy Trial Act. If it were designated as such, because of the unusual or complicated nature of the case, the trial would be delayed to allow more time for preparation.

In describing the complexities of the case, Coughlan said in his motion that secretly recorded conversations quoted in the indictment are “taken out of context and in a misleading fashion.” He said the nature of relationships between elected officials and lobbyists has been misunderstood by prosecutors.

As an example, Coughlan cites a comment excerpted in the indictment in which Zucchet is speaking to Lance Malone: “OK. I don’t have a problem with that, and I’ll do the lifting at the committee level.”

Coughlan’s motion said the indictment “omits Zucchet’s complete statement: ‘But I would not be willing to do that at the council level until I heard from the police . . . In my office they said not only no, but NFW.’ ”

According to the indictment, Zucchet received $6,750 in checks from Malone.

“The indictment, however, omits the fact that those checks were promptly returned by Mr. Zucchet to Malone,” Coughlan noted in his motion. “We have already discovered several other such examples in our early review of the evidence.”

The taped conversations actually show Zucchet was not involved in a conspiracy, Coughlan said in the motion, citing an April 10, 2003, conversation between Malone and Galardi “in which they complain about the lack of cooperation from council members.”

Another example: In a taped conversation on April 7, 2003, between Lewis and Malone, Malone complained about Lewis’ failure to return his phone calls, the motion said.

“He complained about his being ‘passed off to aides.’ He complained about Mr. Zucchet not supporting a change to the ordinance. He complained about the fact that Lewis and Zucchet didn’t talk to each other. Hardly the stuff of conspiracy.”


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