Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Ex-US mayor lost £640m gambling

Maureen O'Connor lost more than £640 million in a decade-long gambling spree

A former US city mayor lost more than one billion dollars (£640 million) in a 10-year gambling spree.

Appearing in court in San Diego, Maureen O'Connor, 66, admitted that she took 2.1 million dollars (£1.4 million) from her late husband's charitable foundation. She appears to blame the gambling spree on a brain tumour.

O'Connor, former mayor of San Diego, pleaded not guilty to a money laundering charge in an agreement with the Justice Department that defers prosecution for two years while she tries to repay the foundation and receives treatment for gambling.

"There are two Maureens - Maureen No 1 and Maureen No 2," O'Connor told a news conference. "Maureen No. 2 is the Maureen who did not know she had a tumour growing in her brain." The tumour was diagnosed in 2011.

O'Connor once had a personal fortune that her lawyer estimated at 40-50 million dollars (£26m-£32m) inherited from her husband, Robert O Peterson, founder of the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. She is now virtually broke, living with a sister.

O'Connor began gambling around 2001 as she struggled with pain and loneliness from the death of her husband from leukaemia in 1994 and the passing of several close friends, said her lawyer, Eugene Iredale.

He called it "grief gambling" in a court filing.

O'Connor won about one billion dollars from 2000 to 2009, according to winnings that casinos reported to the Internal Revenue Service, but lost even more.

The US attorney's office said O'Connor's medical condition influenced the decision to strike a deal, saying it may have been impossible to bring the case to trial. The tumour was removed, but doctors submitted letters detailing significant health problems.

"Maureen O'Connor was a selfless public official who contributed much to the well-being of San Diego," said US Attorney Laura Duffy. "However, no figure, regardless of how much good they've done or how much they've given to charity, can escape criminal liability with impunity."