Maureen O’Connor, the former mayor of San Diego, admitted in federal court that she took $2.1 million from her late husband’s charitable foundation.
With that money, she won - and lost - more than $1 billion gambling.
She pleaded not guilty to money laundering, deferring prosecution for two years as she tries to repay the foundation and receives treatment for gambling.
O’Connor, 66, once had a personal fortune that her attorney estimated between $40 million and $50 million, inherited from her husband of 17 years.
The late Robert O. Peterson was the founder of fast food chain Jack in the Box Inc. Maureen O'Connor is now virtually broke, living with a sister.
O’Connor walked across the courtroom with a cane, appearing frail and struggling to maintain composure as her attorney wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
At a news conference, she said she always intended to repay the foundation and appeared to blame her behavior on a brain tumor that was diagnosed in 2011.
“There are two Maureens, Maureen No. 1 and Maureen No. 2,” she said. “Maureen No. 2 is the Maureen who did not know she had a tumor growing in her brain.”
O’Connor’s game of choice was video poker at casinos in San Diego, Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Her attorney, Eugene Iredale, said she played for hours at a time.
She won about $1 billion from 2000-2009, according to winnings that casinos reported to the IRS, but lost even more. Her net gambling losses topped $13 million.