Nightly News   |  February 16, 2013

Ex-mayor of San Diego admits she stole

Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor acknowledged in federal court Thursday that she took $2 million from her late husband's charitable foundation to pay for her addiction to video poker. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> and a fall from grace in this country involving a woman who made history as the first female mayor of san diego . maureen o'connor admits she stole millions to support a decade-long gambling addiction that may have led to more than a billion dollars in losses. her story tonight from nbc's mike taibbi .

>> reporter: maureen o'connor is 66 now. her health is frail, her fortune gone, her humiliation deep. i never meant to hurt people.

>> reporter: what the former san diego mayor admits she did was to steal millions from the charitable foundation of her late husband robert peterson , the founder of the jack in the box restaurant chain , to help fuel a gambling obsession of mammoth proportions. her winnings were over a billion dollars but, unfortunately for her, her losses exceeded even that.

>> reporter: o'connor cut a deal to avoid jail time for wire fraud, pay back the charity, and fully admit her wrongdoing. but she said a brain tumor that was removed two years ago long after she gambled her way to few if any assets was the reason for the addiction. there's two maureens. maureen number one and maureen number two. maureen number two is the woman that did not know she had a tumor growing in her head.

>> reporter: maybe, said one expert. anything that damages brain tissue is going to affect judgment.

>> reporter: while the numbers are mind boggling, how much she stole, how much she gambled, how much she won and how much she lost, the truly sad part of the story is the contrast with the woman maureen o'connor was. not just san diego 's first female mayor but from 1986 to '92 truly a people's mayor, a vibrant reformer who had grown up poor, the daughter of a bookie, and who raised the struggling city's best hopes. i'd like to be remembered as bringing back a little ethics to the mayor's office and to the city.

>> reporter: from those heady days to her claim when the glory days ended. my style has been different. it's the old frank sinatra song "i did it my way."

>> reporter: admirable on its face but now revealing a secret life of illness and criminality and human failing. mike taibbi , nbc