TODAY   |  February 16, 2013

Former mayor admits to gambling away $1 billion

Maureen O’Connor, the first female mayor of San Diego, has admitted she stole millions to support a decade-long gambling addiction, but O’Connor blames a brain tumor for her fall from grace. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> want to turn to san diego and a stunning fall from grace for that city's former mayor. over a ten-year period, maureen o'connor stole millions of dollars and ran up more than a billion, a billion with a "b," dollars in gambling losses. the reason for her behavior might surprise you. here's more.

>> reporter: maureen o'connor is 66 now. her health 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 $1 billion. 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. 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 in the first place.

>> there's two more reasons -- maureen number one and maureen number two. maureen number two, the woman that did not know she has 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 purely 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 1992 truly a people's mayor. a vibrant reformer who'd grown up poor, the daughter of a bookie, then raised a 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 this. here was the claim at the end of her glory days .

>> my style is different, the old frank sinatra song, "i did it my way."

>> reporter: admirable now. but stripped away now to reveal a secret life of illness and criminality and human failing. for "today","