March 29 2006 12:00 AM

As Bill Horn scrambles to explain his relationship with his chief of staff, questions swirl around h

Bill Horn, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, is his own worst enemy. He once vented his frustration over a denied pay raise by voting against funding for a county hospital. He also compared his crusade against medical marijuana to the struggle of civil-rights icon Rosa Parks.

But this time around, it's what didn't come out of Horn's mouth that's got him trouble.

Last week, KFMB-Channel 8 news, working with local government watchdogs, broke the story that Horn's chief of staff, Joan Wonsley, and her three children live in a $1.3-million, six-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath Carlsbad manse owned by Horn.

Horn explained that Wonsley paid $349,000 as a refundable deposit in 2004 as part of a lease-to-own agreement and pays him $2,733 a month, which covers his mortgage payment on the house.

But the arrangement, which Horn has described as a “business venture,” is problematic on several fronts.

Horn may have violated state law when he failed to properly disclose his ownership of the Carlsbad home and the payments from Wonsley in financial statements. Horn has publicly admitted that he made a mistake and has hired an attorney to help him correct the forms.

But Horn's state filings aren't the only documents lacking full disclosure. Campaign records show Wonsley and her daughter, Brooke, were paid thousands of dollars for raising money for Horn's reelection, but the filings list Joan Wonsley's mother's address rather than Horn's Carlsbad home, where they actually live. In another possible violation of state law, Wonsley told Channel 8 the false address was used to protect her privacy.

Moreover, ethicist Bob Stern said the arrangement wherein Wonsley pays rent to her boss, who in turn controls her salary, constitutes a “classic conflict of interest.”

No word yet as to how Horn plans to address those problems, but Ian Trowbridge, one of the government watchdogs, has formally asked the district attorney, the state attorney general and California's Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate.

The lack of disclosure related to the Carlsbad home has local media tiptoeing around rumors surrounding Horn and Wonsley-rumors that popped up on the blog San Diego Politics earlier this year-and Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins last weekend admitted he's been sitting on the story for “five long years.”

According to property records, Horn, who bought the Carlsbad house in 2003, is listed as the sole property owner after his wife, Kathleen, relinquished any claim to the house. Horn-a conservative Christian who's up for reelection this year-recently filed a sworn statement indicating he lives in Valley Center with his wife, but neighbors told Channel 8 they've spotted Horn's SUV outside the Carlsbad home, where it often remained overnight. One neighbor told the news station that Horn told her he wasn't married.

Horn has adamantly denied having a sexual relationship with Wonsley.

“The accusation that I am or was involved in an inappropriate relationship with my chief of staff is completely untrue,” Horn said in a written statement. “Joan is a valued employee and friend, and that is all.”

But the situation may get more interesting as questions swirl around two court cases stemming from a 2003 attack in which Brooke, the daughter, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

According to court documents, Brooke stabbed Christopher Anderson, her then-boyfriend of three years, in the groin with a 13-inch butcher knife, piercing his femoral artery. The stabbing occurred at her mother's Del Mar condo during a party, at which Brooke, then 20, and Anderson, then 24, had an alcohol-fueled argument. Brooke was eventually arrested. Anderson was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery and nearly died.

In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Brooke pled guilty to a lesser charge of inflicting physical injury on a spouse or cohabitant and was sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service and therapy for domestic-violence aggressors. Eighteen months later, the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.

Hans Anderson, the stabbing victim's father, said the sentence was “a miscarriage of justice on the criminal side,” adding, “If I had done this, or he had done this to her, he'd be in jail for two or three years, and yet she was in for two or three hours while they were setting bail.” Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon, pays his son's legal and medical bills. “The ball was dropped, and whether anybody was pushing the ball, I don't know,” he said.

Brooke was also later ordered to pay more than $30,000 to cover Chris' medical bills, although her attorney indicated at the time that “she has no assets and no income,” and the debt was spread out over decades.

The attorney didn't mention the nearly $8,000 the Horn campaign reported paying her in 2004.

Frustrated by the outcome of the criminal case, Chris Anderson filed a civil suit seeking more than $500,000 in damages. Subsequent attempts to mediate a lesser settlement have failed-the elder Anderson said Brooke has continued to claim she has no assets or income. He noted that, because of Brooke's age at the time of the stabbing, neither her mother nor her mother's insurance company is liable for damages.

Yet Anderson credits Wonsley for stepping up to the plate and making an offer on her daughter's behalf. In a letter, Wonsley indicated that she, too, lacks sufficient assets but offered to fund a small settlement by selling a ring. But Wonsley declined when the Andersons' attorney asked her to make the same assertions under oath, Anderson and his attorney both said.Click here to read the letter.

Facing the prospect of a potentially expensive jury trial-scheduled to start earlier this month-Anderson decided his best chance of recovering his expenses was a last-minute settlement. An agreement was negotiated but not finalized when news of Wonsley's $349,000 investment in Horn's home and the more than $19,000 that Horn's campaign paid Brooke in the past five years made headlines.

Brooke's attorney in the civil suit didn't respond to several phone messages requesting comment.

Contacted on her cell phone, Joan Wonsley said she couldn't hear the caller, although before the phone was disconnected she could be heard explaining that it was a reporter from CityBeat on the line and asking someone how the reporter obtained her cell-phone number. Another female then asked if she should restrict the number before the call was disconnected.

Horn's spokesman, John Culea, said he would look into questions surrounding the assertions made in Brooke's legal cases and would have answers Wednesday. Reminded that CityBeat's deadline is Tuesday, he said, “Then I don't have an answer for you.”

Anderson said he still hopes to settle the civil case so his son can put the matter behind him. However, in light of the news, he said he won't sign a confidentiality agreement sought by Wonsley.


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