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Conviction of ex-San Diego Councilman Inzunza upheld [Updated]

September 1, 2009 | 12:51 pm

 A federal appeals court today upheld the conviction of a former San Diego city councilman in a case involving political contributions from a strip club.

InzunzaFormer Councilman Ralph Inzunza was sentenced in 2005 to 21 months in prison after a federal jury convicted him of "theft of honest services" for taking contributions from the the strip-club owner who wanted help in overturning a city law prohibiting nude entertainers from touching patrons.

But the same court, the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals, rejected the prosecutors' bid to overturn an acquittal order by the trial judge for former Councilman Michael Zucchet.

After a jury convicted Zucchet, District Judge Jeffrey Miller threw out some counts and ordered a retrial for Zucchet on others.

The appeals court panel upheld the acquittals and cast doubt on whether the federal prosecutors will be able to win a conviction on the other counts at a retrial.

 "Large gaps exist in the government's case against Zucchet," the court's opinion reads. At another point, the opinion notes a "deficiency of evidence" against Zucchet.

Inzunza has been free on bail since the conviction. Zucchet is now acting general manager of the Municipal Employees Assn. Both resigned from the council after their convictions.

The appeals court delayed the impact of its ruling on Inzunza until the U.S. Supreme Court decides a case involving legal issues surrounding the "theft of honest services" legal theory that does not require a classic quid-pro-quo for a conviction.

The no-touching law was never repealed and, in fact, never came to the City Council.

Three council members were indicted in the case. Councilman Charles Lewis died before the trial, and council aide David Cowan was acquitted by the jury.

[Updated at 3:15 p.m. U.S. Atty. Karen Hewitt, in a statement, said that: "In consultation with the Justice Department, we are currently weighing all legal options with respect to these cases."]

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Ralph Inzunza. Credit: Denis Poroy / Associated Press