Four days after an evening event late last May at the swank Coronado home of a Mexican businessman linked to a swirling illegal campaign-contribution scheme, former Mayor Bob Filner sat down to a late lunch in the posh Westgate Hotel dining room to consider a new police chief.
At the table, according to Filner's appointment calendar, were retired San Diego police detective-turned-security consultant Ernesto Encinas—himself ensnared in San Diego's latest political scandal—and a tall, strapping man by the name of Warren Stanley.
Today, Stanley continues to serve in the job he had when he sat down to break bread with Filner on May 30—he's the California Highway Patrol's assistant commissioner in charge of field operations.
In a statement given to CityBeat on Feb. 7, Stanley—who said he owns a home in San Diego County—met with Filner "to gauge my interest in a position one day as San Diego police chief."
Stanley described the lunch meeting as "cordial," adding that the Thursday meet-up occurred on "my own personal time" and lasted "about 45 minutes."
And it was the last time Stanley said he talked to Filner about the job.
"We talked about my qualifications and background, and, while very humbled to be approached in this manner, there was no further discussion or follow-up to the meeting," Stanley said in the statement.
In a diplomatic nod to the current police chief, Stanley concluded by saying, "I fully support current Chief William Lansdowne and the job he is doing in San Diego."
Asked if Stanley would respond to further questions, a CHP spokeswoman said he was "out of the office today."
The private lunch is intriguing on a number of levels. First, Encinas is the man federal investigators allege served as go-between for the Mexican businessman, Susumo Azano, and various political campaigns—most notably Filner's and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' mayoral bids—that benefited from Azano's illegal contributions. A federal complaint alleges that Encinas sought a police chief of his choosing in return for the illegally funneled campaign donations.
On the Sunday prior to that meeting, Filner's calendar lists a vague entry from 6:30 to 8 p.m.: "BF EVENT 1 Buccaneer Way, Coronado 92118." That address is the same as one singled out in earlier reports as the residence of Azano, who federal authorities allege dreamed of developing San Diego's harbor-front into a "Miami West."
As CityBeat reported Jan. 24, the head of the San Diego Police Officers Association, Brian Marvel, said he'd heard from "credible sources" that Filner had been trying to find a replacement for Lansdowne during the middle of last year, just months before sexual-harassment allegations chased Filner from office.
"I heard he was offering jobs to people," Marvel told CityBeat last month. "Whether they accepted, I don't know."
That same day, U-T San Diego reported that "Marvel said he was told that two candidates were highly regarded by Filner—Rulette Armstead, a former San Diego assistant police chief, and a high-ranking California Highway Patrol officer."
That certainly applies to Stanley, who's moved up the ranks since he first joined the CHP in 1982 as a patrol officer in central Los Angeles. He is one of two assistant commissioners with the CHP, the third-highest ranking position in the statewide agency headquartered in Sacramento, where he is based. He was appointed to his current position in December 2012.
The U-T story quotes Armstead as saying she was never contacted by Filner nor offered Lansdowne's job, noting that city pension rules for retired officers would make that problematic.
That could suggest that Stanley was Filner's top preference, although Filner continues to remain silent as he serves house arrest for his harassment pleas. The former mayor did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Last month, Voice of San Diego reported that Filner had met with Azano at his Coronado home in August 2012 while he was running for mayor. The latest revelation—that Filner participated in a subsequent "event" at Azano's home while mayor—raises additional questions.
Was Filner close to sealing the deal to replace Lansdowne, whose clashes with Encinas over Downtown liquor-license and nightclub-permitting issues are well-documented? Why was Filner publicly praising Lansdowne while apparently also seeking his ouster behind the scenes?
CityBeat reached out to Lansdowne for comment, but a police spokesperson referred all questions to the FBI, which is heading up the scandal investigation.
Filner's calendar does indicate he was scheduled to meet with Lansdowne and other city employees the morning of June 10 and again with Lansdowne only on the evening of June 19 in the Mayor's office, but no subject matter was listed.
The former mayor and his staff—based on Filner's appointment calendar, published emails and other documents—met at least 10 times with players under federal scrutiny in the money-for-favors scheme, with lobbyist Marco Polo Cortés listed as attending all but one of them: the May lunch with Stanley.
Eight of those meetings occurred while Filner served as mayor. Two others previously reported by Voice of San Diego took place prior to his election in November 2012.
At the heart of those meetings seemed to be the intent to persuade Filner that Lansdowne was treating a Gaslamp nightclub proposal too harshly compared with other similarly located venues.
Notes titled "PD Issues" from a July 5 meeting in the Mayor's office that includes copies of business cards from Cortés, Encinas and their client, Sixth-and-Broadway nightclub owner Carlos Becerra, indicate a tense relationship with police over permitting.
"Not fair, consistent, or reasonable when recommending or denying permits or conditions even though they say they are," the notes say in reference to police liquor-license oversight, adding "very narrow minded with very limit [sic] business experience."
Police, the notes continue, "have basically snubbed their nose at the mayor's office to change their recommendations after requested to do so."
A copy of a July 10 email from Encinas requesting a meeting "ASAP" between Becerra associates and police "per Mayor Filner" includes a cryptic order that appears to be in Filner's handwriting: "go thru Landsdowne [sic]—tell him who we want to meet with."
As Voice reported last month, Becerra received a new liquor license the day before Filner left office last August.
What's this all about?
Last month, authorities charged three men with allegedly breaking federal laws in a scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mexican businessman Susumo Azano into several San Diego political campaigns. It's illegal for people without U.S. citizenship or a green card to contribute to U.S. campaigns. The men are Ernesto Encinas, an associate of Azano and a former police detective; Ravneet Singh, a social-media consultant for election campaigns; and Marco Polo Cortés, a lobbyist.
Azano's money illegally made its way to the 2012 mayoral campaigns of Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County's district attorney, and Bob Filner. Encinas also attempted to donate to Juan Vargas' 2012 campaign for Congress and Nathan Fletcher's 2013 bid for mayor. None of the politicians has been accused of wrongdoing.
Authorities say Encinas wanted the next mayor to fire Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and that Azano wanted help in turning San Diego's waterfront into "Miami West." Encinas and Cortés met with Filner and other elected officials, seeking help with getting permits and alcohol licenses for Downtown nightclubs that they represented.