SAN DIEGO—A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the conviction of former San Diego City Councilman Ralph Inzunza and the acquittal of former Councilman Michael Zucchet on corruption charges in a long-running case dubbed "Strippergate" by local media.
However, the decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals won't be final until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on a similar case involving a former politician in Alaska.
A jury convicted Inzunza and Zucchet in 2005 of accepting bribes from Las Vegas strip club owner Michael Galardi, who also owned Cheetah's strip club in Kearny Mesa. Galardi was seeking to overturn the city's so-called "no-touch'' ordinance, which prohibits contact between exotic dancers and patrons at adult entertainment venues. Galardi pleaded guilty to bribery charges and testified against Inzunza and Zucchet. A San Diego jury convicted both councilmen on federal charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and extortion.
Following the conviction, Zucchet and Inzunza both resigned from the City Council. Ironically, days before his conviction, Zucchet had become the city's acting mayor after Mayor Dick Murphy resigned.
Following a round of appeals, in November of 2005, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller upheld Inzunza's convictions, but he overturned seven of Zucchet's nine convictions, citing insufficient evidence. The judge ordered a new trial for Zucchet on the remaining two counts. The government then challenged Zucchet's acquittal, but Tuesday, after four years of litigation, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Miller's decision.
Inzunza was sentenced to 21 months in prison but has been free during the appeal. Zucchet could get a new trial on the two remaining charges - one for wire fraud, and one for conspiracy.
Zucchet's lawyer released a statement calling on prosecutors to dismiss the two remaining charges pending against their client.
"Mr. Zucchet has been vindicated once again. He and his wife are tremendously gratified by this result, although it is a tragedy for his family and for this city that they were put through this long and excruciating ordeal," the statement said.
U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt said her office is reviewing the appeals court decision.
"In consultation with the Justice Department, we are currently weighing all legal options with respect to these cases,'' Hewitt said in a statement.