O’Connor, 66, appeared in court on Thursday to face charges of money laundering, according to USA Today. While she pleaded not guilty to the charges, she acknowledged that she did indeed misappropriate money from her late husband’s charity. She is now tasked with repaying the $2,088,000 that was stolen from the R.P. Foundation, which was founded by her husband Robert O. Peterson.
After serving as San Diego’s first female mayor from 1986 to 1992, O’Connor developed a severe gambling addiction around 2001. Over the past decade, she managed to win more than $1 billion, though she ultimately lost much more than that. According to the Huffington Post, the former mayor began siphoning money from the R.P. Foundation in September 2008 to bankroll her addiction.
Peterson, who was best known as the founder of the Jack-In-The-Box restaurant chain, passed away in 1994 of leukemia. He set up the R.P. Foundation to support several Southern California charities including the San Diego Hospice, Alzheimer’s Association and City of Hope, with millions of dollars each year.
Though O’Connor ultimately drained the charity of its resources, she maintains that she always planned to pay back the money she took.
"I always intended to pay it back, and I still intend to pay it back," she said in court, according to U-T San Diego. "In that period of time I lost my husband, three siblings, best friends."
"Most of you know, I never meant to hurt the city," she said before tearing up.
O’Connor, whose annual gambling winnings exceeded $200 million at one point, has also been diagnosed with a brain tumor that, according to her prosecutors, left her with "significant complications, including a pulmonary embolism and cognitive impairment.”
The former mayor of San Diego has two years to pay back the money, including back taxes. If she fails, the money laundering charge would be renewed and she could spend up to 10 years in prison.