Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor took $2 million from a nonprofit foundation to feed a gambling addiction in which she lost more than $1 billion over a nine-year period, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
O’Connor, 66, appeared in federal court and pleaded not guilty to a money laundering charge as part of a deferred prosecution. Under the arrangement with federal prosecutors, she has two years to repay the $2 million taken from the R.P. Foundation, a nonprofit set up by her late husband, Robert O. Peterson.
Peterson was co-founder of the Jack-In-The-Box restaurant chain and later Southern California First National Bank Corp., which eventually became part of the Union Bank empire.
Prosecutors said O’Connor, who is in poor physical health, had $1 billion in gambling winnings between 2000 and 2009, but she posted losses during the same period that were greater than that amount. Her preferred game was video poker. They described her now as “destitute.”
The date is stamped onto Deborah Greenslit’s mind: May 19, 2010, her daughter’s 21st birthday. Greenslit went with a friend to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., and played the slots. She spent $36, and the last time she pulled the lever she hit the jackpot: $752,000.
Greenslit knew just what she would do with the money: buy that beach cottage in Maine she had dreamed about for decades. But two years later she is “broke and broken,” as she puts it. The jackpot is long gone, much of it poured back into the slots at Mohegan Sun.
It’s not an uncommon story in the gambling world, where fortunes can be made and lost the same day. But in Greenslit’s case the irony is striking: She is a therapist and wellness expert who has spent her career helping people with anxiety disorders, personal growth issues, and addictions.
“I was paying attention to everyone else’s leaks in life, and I ended up with a gaping hole,” says Greenslit, 56.
Mohegan Sun regularly offered Deborah Greenslit (second from left) perks like complimentary meals for her sisters at casino restaurants: “I was being treated like a queen,” she said. But the slot machines were always a draw.
Today, she rents an apartment in Kennebunk, Maine. She is trying to sell her home in the central Massachusetts community of Rutland, near her longtime counseling practice in Paxton. These days her main client is herself.
Mohegan Sun made Greenslit a member of its invitation-only Sachem Club for frequent players and big spenders. The offers were hard to resist.
“The addictive lure is believing that if you just play long enough you will win,” she says. “Often that will happen, but usually not until you have already put in 10 times more than what you won. Then you go for the chase to win your money back, only to dig yourself in deeper and deeper.