defends deal

Teaming up with
Chula Vista
councilman to buy lot
man says

By Tanya Mannes

July 22, 2006

Barros was surprised to see
his name in the news
recently, the focus of
allegations that he was
involved in an improper land
deal with City Councilman
Steve Castaneda.

JIM BAIRD / Union-Tribune
Henry Barros did some
maintenance work at one of
his properties in Chula
Vista. "I've always had a
good reputation," he said.  
“I've always had a good
reputation,” the local
businessman said, his slow,
measured voice reflecting
his rural roots. “I have
nothing to hide, but I feel
like I've been blackballed.”

Last year Barros and
Castaneda jointly
purchased a vacant lot,
which they later sold at a

Critics complained that
Barros had undue influence
on Castaneda, who votes
on zoning decisions that
could affect the value of
several properties Barros
owns. The 2005 land deal is
being reviewed by the Fair
Political Practices
Commission at the request
of the city's ethics

Barros is an Imperial Valley
native who got his start
selling insurance. He built a
real estate portfolio that
includes properties in Chula
Vista and Imperial Beach.

He said he has done
countless “handshake”
deals with friends and
doesn't see anything
unusual about the
transaction with Castaneda.

Barros has been involved in
loans with Tom Sokoff,
owner of Jimmy's Family
Restaurant; and land deals
with partners, including his
brother, Martin Barros;
Gregory Montegna, a San
Diego resident who owns a
Chula Vista law firm; Chula
Vista resident Ken Weimer;
and Manu Melwani, a Guam
native with several
investments in San Diego
County, according to
property records.

“I bring friends in on a lot of
deals I could go alone,”
Barros said during a recent
interview in his paper-strewn
office at 277 G St. “You
share the wealth, and it
keeps on coming.”

Perceived conflict
Several Chula Vista
residents perceived that
Castaneda had a conflict of
interest. Mark Croshier, a
retired policeman, filed the
complaint that led to the
ethics commission reviewing
the purchase. Croshier said
that when he heard about
the deal it reminded him of
the bribery scandal that led
former Rep. Randy “Duke”
Cunningham to plead guilty
last November to conspiracy
and tax charges.

“When I see red flags
popping up, I pay attention
to them,” said Croshier, who
said he doesn't know
Castaneda or Barros.

AdvertisementIn the July 14,
2005, land deal, Barros and
Castaneda bought a vacant
lot at 40 L St. for $305,000.
They sold it five months
later for $370,000, a gain of
Barros said he asked
Castaneda to go in on the
deal after other partners
backed out. Castaneda had
some cash but not enough
for half the cost. To make it
50-50, Barros lent him
$98,000 at 6 percent
interest, which he said was
the market rate.

Castaneda said that after
repaying the loan plus
interest and other costs, his
net profit was $16,638. He
provided The San Diego
Union-Tribune with
documentation, including
copies of canceled checks.

The Barros-Castaneda land
deal attracted attention
when it was disclosed that
Castaneda didn't report
income from the sale on
political disclosure forms,
which all elected officials are
required to file.

The city's ethics commission
last month referred the
matter to the FPPC and
requested an investigation
by the San Diego County
district attorney.

An everyday matter
Castaneda said the land
transaction was
“mischaracterized.” He
described it as “something
hundreds of thousands of
people do every day:
investing in real estate.”

Castaneda and Barros met
in 2004, when Castaneda
launched his campaign for
City Council.

The two found common
ground in their Imperial
Valley roots. Castaneda's
family owned an ice factory,
and Barros remembered
scrounging pieces of ice to
make snow cones, although
the two had never met.

Barros, who was politically
active in the 1980s and
1990s but had since
become disillusioned with
Chula Vista politics, said
Castaneda was a politician
he could support.

Castaneda, a transportation
consultant, ended up
renting two properties from
Barros: a business office on
Third Avenue, which he also
used for his campaign; and
a house on J Street. He also
received two contributions
from Barros totaling $500,
according to political
disclosure forms.

This year, Castaneda
rented another office from
Barros for his campaign for
mayor. He came in third in
the June 6 primary.

Castaneda said he
considers Barros a friend,
but not a close friend.

“He is somebody who is a
very nice person and who
you like to keep in contact
with,” Castaneda said.

Barros said he considers
Castaneda an honest man.

“He's a good person who
would have made a good
mayor,” he said. “He cares
about the little people.”

A simpler time
Barros believes his
preference for doing
business with friends just
reflects a simpler time. He
has been known to pay for
car repairs in exchange for
avocados and oranges
picked from trees in his yard
on G Street. Last year, he
traded a used TV for a
doctor's visit.

His favorite pastime is
“treasure hunting” for
collectibles, such as
baseball cards, in the
properties he buys.

Barros said that years ago
he held fundraisers for
former mayors Greg Cox
and Shirley Horton and
former councilwoman Mary
Salas, although no records
could be found confirming
those statements.

Cox, a San Diego County
Supervisor, said he vaguely
remembers Barros holding a
benefit at the old Bonita
store “a number of years

“I've known Henry a long
time,” Cox said, adding that
Barros was his insurance
agent. In the late 1980s,
both were members of the
Chula Vista JCs, formerly
the Junior Chamber of

Horton, who also purchased
insurance from Barros, said
she considers him a
“supporter” but said she
couldn't remember him
hosting a benefit for her

In a review of microfilm
campaign forms dating to
1976 in the Chula Vista City
Clerk's office, the Union-
Tribune could not find a
record of Barros being
involved in campaigns for
Cox, Horton or Salas.
Barros was listed as
donating $200 in 1998 to
former councilwoman Patty

Barros also was linked last
year to a battle against high-
rise development because
he has a stake in the Lions
Club building, where a
community group held
meetings. He denied any
connection to the fight
against the project known
as Espanada.

Earl Jentz, the Chula
Vista landlord who
bankrolled the anti-
Espanada effort,
confirmed that Barros
wasn't involved and said
the group paid rent to
use the Lions Club.

Barros added that he
supports high-rise
development because it
would raise the values of his

A bachelor, Barros, 45, lives
with his dogs in a house on
J Street, one of eight South
Bay properties he owns,
including a chocolate shop
on Third Avenue and
waterfront land in Imperial

He aspired to become a
developer. He wanted to
build a food court in a
building he owned at 276
Third Ave., but gave up and
sold it after city-mandated
negotiations with a
neighboring developer

Barros began acquiring land
with money he made in the
insurance business. He
doubled his money on his
first investment, a $135,000
house in Bonita that went
cheap because its garage
rested on a cracked
concrete slab.

Barros was born into a large
Catholic family in Calipatria.
In high school, he showed
steers at county fairs and
worked in the fields of
squash farms. He moved to
San Diego County in 1981
and got a job at Chula
Vista's Dwight Gove
Insurance Agency. Barros
did so well selling insurance
that he became full owner in
1994. He recently sold it.

Weimer, who was company
president, said he saw
potential in Barros,
describing him as a “natural
investor” with a knack for
finding a good deal.

“He was wet behind the
ears,” Weimer said, “but he
was not afraid to talk to
people or get involved in the

Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda fights a bizarre prosecution by
the secretive Patrick O'Toole, San Diego
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis'
pal who suddenly went low-profile after a very public announcement of his
"Public Integrity Unit."
Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda
State lets Castaneda
vote on condo bid

Conflict of interest in measure
called 'remote'

By Tanya Mannes

September 15, 2006

CHULA VISTA – The state
attorney general has weighed
in on a controversy involving
Councilman Steve
Castaneda, who lived in an
apartment complex while the
owners sought council
approval to convert the
buildings to condominiums.

A final vote on the
condominium conversion for
Sunbow Villas, at 750 East
Naples Court, was originally
scheduled for March 14. The
council postponed it to allow
for an investigation into
whether Castaneda had a
conflict of interest and, if so,
whether that conflict would
prevent other council
members from voting on the

Attorney General Bill
Lockyer's opinion on the
matter, issued Aug. 25, states
that a council member's
tenancy in a complex is a
“remote interest” that
shouldn't prohibit the City
Council from voting on an
issue affecting the complex.
Lockyer states that the
council “may execute the
subdivision improvement
agreement while one of its
members is a tenant” as long
as the landlord-tenant
relationship is disclosed.
Further, the council member
can receive general
relocation benefits as long as
the council member doesn't
vote on the agreement, he

Castaneda said in an
interview that he felt
vindicated by Lockyer's

“The attorney general just
corroborated what I knew all
along – that I did nothing
wrong,” he said. “I have a
right, the same as any other
citizen of Chula Vista, to rent
an apartment.”

The conversion delay became
an emotionally charged issue
leading to the June 6 mayoral
primary as buyers blamed
Castaneda for holding up
their purchase of the homes
when he moved into the

Castaneda was running for
mayor against the incumbent,
Steve Padilla. Castaneda has
publicly blamed Padilla for the
Sunbow conversion delay,
alleging that the mayor
orchestrated the conflict-of-
interest probe as a political

In the election Padilla placed
second, qualifying him for the
runoff election Nov. 7;
Castaneda came in third.

Padilla and Castaneda had
battled over whether the
council could vote on the
condo conversion. Under
certain conditions of the state
government code, if one
council member stands to
benefit from a vote, other
members are prohibited from
voting on it.

City Attorney Ann Moore
requested the outside opinion
from Lockyer.

At issue was a $1,000
relocation allowance for
tenants of Sunbow, which has
202 apartments. Castaneda
said he moved into the
complex too late to receive
the $1,000, under the original
version of the conversion

The council voted in March
2005 on tentative approval of
the condo conversion, which
was before Castaneda had
moved in. He said Padilla's
office later revised the
agreement. Castaneda said
the change extended the
$1,000 moving allowance to
all tenants, including himself –
thereby creating a conflict of
interest for him and triggering
the inquiry by the city attorney.

Padilla denied the accusation
that he orchestrated the
condo conversion delay,
answering “absolutely not”
when asked whether his office
changed relocation benefit

“I think there was a difference
of opinion as to what the
tentative map conditions were
at the time it was approved,”
Padilla said. “My office worked
with the city attorney and
planning and building on
behalf of residents at the time
to get some assurance they
would get their benefit.”

Castaneda provided copies of
internal city e-mails regarding
Sunbow. The documents
indicate that a city staff
member complained to a
supervisor that the mayor's
office was getting overly
involved in negotiating the
Sunbow condo conversion
agreement. The e-mails were
exchanged in November and
December 2005, after the
initial vote and a few months
after Castaneda had moved

Padilla declined to comment
on the e-mails, saying he
wasn't aware of them.

Castaneda, who lived 11
months in Sunbow Villas, said
he never sought or received
relocation money.

“It's very sad that the property
owner and the citizens who
bought homes were dragged
through this delay
needlessly,” he said.

In the meantime, the company
doing the conversion, Pacifica
Sunbow, sued the city over
the delay. San Diego Superior
Court Judge William Cannon
ruled July 19 that the project
could proceed because
preliminary plans had already
been approved, and the
council had missed a deadline
for the final vote.

Perjury trial commences today
against Chula Vista councilman

Judge dismisses request for probe

By Tanya Mannes

April 9, 2008

Opening arguments will begin
today in the perjury trial of Chula
Vista City Councilman Steve
Castaneda, who is charged with
making false statements about his
intentions when he rented an
apartment for his wife in 2005.

AdvertisementSuperior Court
Judge Michael Wellington
yesterday denied the defense
attorney's request for time to
investigate a potential conflict of
interest involving prosecutor
Patrick O'Toole's “social
relationship” with a witness.
Wellington did not publicly explain
his decision.

Castaneda is accused of lying
during O'Toole's investigation into
an allegation that Castaneda
sought free rent, money or
benefits from a developer, Ash
Israni of Pacifica Cos., who
converted his wife's apartment
complex to condominiums.

Castaneda has described the
yearlong grand jury investigation
as a “political witch hunt.”

O'Toole looked into issues
including a $1,000 relocation
allowance that was available to
tenants. He found that the
councilman did not ask for that
money or other benefits.

Despite finding no evidence of
misconduct, O'Toole said he
decided to charge Castaneda with
13 counts of felony perjury for
“lying about the facts” during his
sworn testimony.

The perjury charges stem from
when Castaneda answered “no”
when O'Toole asked him
numerous times if he had thought
about buying one of the converted

At least one witness testified that
Castaneda asked about the price
of a condominium, grand jury
records show. O'Toole said he
believes that inquiry indicates
Castaneda once wanted to buy
one, even though he didn't
ultimately do so.

It would have been perfectly legal
for Castaneda to purchase one of
the condos or accept a relocation
allowance, according to an
opinion he sought from the state
Attorney General's Office.
In April 2007, the Public Integrity Unit of San Diego District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis began prosecuting political opponents of Cheryl Cox. Patrick O'Toole,
who had previously been appointed as US Attorney for San Diego by Attorney
General John Ashcroft, headed the unit. O'Toole prosecuted a staffer for mayor
Steven Padilla who had taken two hours off work in an effort to get a
photograph of
Cheryl Cox with her disgraced family friend David Malcolm at a
twilight yacht party fundraiser for Cox.

The staffer was charged with five felony counts of perjury for telling a grand jury
that he filled out his leave slip from work before rather than after he took off
from his job at the City of Chula Vista. He pled guilty to lesser charges as part
of a plea deal.

The now-dormant unit ended its active phase with a second and final
prosecution, that of
Steve Castaneda, who had run against Cheryl Cox for
mayor. Castaneda was prosecuted for allegedly lying about whether he
planned to buy a condo, even though he never bought the condo in question.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, "Castaneda was a tenant at the
complex and was accused of seeking favors, such as free rent, from Sunbow
owner Ash Israni, according to the 1,200-page grand jury transcript.

The investigation found that Castaneda paid his rent and didn't ask for
special treatment.

O'Toole told the grand jury the perjury charges are warranted because
Castaneda should be held accountable for 'lying about the facts'; even
if no crime was uncovered.
..Castaneda has been vocal about O'Toole's
investigations, saying they are politically motivated. He contended that Dumanis
conspired with Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, his political rival in the 2006
mayoral primary."

"DA unit works as quietly as it began"

"Trial and Re-election bid could coincide"
Integrity is on trial,
in an odd sort of

April 16, 2008

I don't know Chula Vista
Councilman Steve
Castaneda. But whenever a
politician is accused of
corruption, I want to be
there for him – in body, if
not in spirit.

That impulse led me this
week to the San Diego
courtroom where
Castaneda is on trial for
perjury. He is accused of
lying during an investigation
into a crime he did not

His trial is the first
prosecution by District
Attorney Bonnie Dumanis'
highly touted (by her)
Public Integrity Unit, which
spent nearly two years
looking into the crime
Castaneda did not commit.

The legal stakes are high.
The political stakes are
higher. So why were jurors
fidgeting and smirking?
Well, as Superior Court
Judge Michael D.
Wellington noted in court
Monday, “This is an
unusual case in a number
of ways.”

For openers, there's the
wacky route it took to the

Dumanis' unit began
looking at Castaneda in
2006, after receiving a tip
that he was getting special
favors from Ashok Israni, a
major Chula Vista

As it turned out, Castaneda
got no special favors.

As it further turned out,
even if he had gotten the
special favors that were
alleged, it wouldn't have
been illegal.

Case closed? Dream on.

Dumanis' office wasn't
letting Castaneda off the
hook that easy. It decided
he lied to the grand jury
about the crime he didn't
commit, the one that wasn't
a crime to begin with. So it
charged him with 13 counts
of perjury.

Prosecutor Patrick O'Toole
says Castaneda lied to
throw the investigation off
its track.

Maybe he did. Maybe
Castaneda wanted to throw
the investigation onto the
track of a crime he actually
did commit, one that
actually was a crime. As a
public service.

Anything's possible.

Another odd thing about
this trial: O'Toole keeps
trying to talk about the
suspicious circumstances
that led him to investigate
Castaneda in the first
place, even though those
matters – as Wellington has
patiently reminded him –
have limited bearing on this

It's as if the crime that didn't
happen is O'Toole's white
whale – the one that got

Here's what did happen:
Castaneda rented an
apartment for his wife and
son (the couple had
separated) in an apartment
complex that was about to
be converted to condos.
Like anyone who rented at
that time, Castaneda had
first dibs on buying the
condo. And he became
eligible for a $1,000
relocation benefit when he
didn't buy in the

Israni, the complex's owner,
had reason to curry favor
with Castaneda, and they
had the usual developer-
politician relationship that
involves private meetings
and campaign contributions.

Yet there's no evidence
that Castaneda got a rent
break, that the relocation
benefit was tailored to line
his pocket or that Israni did
him any favors.

That didn't stop O'Toole
from ladling on the
innuendo in his opening
argument to the jury.

“At the end of the day,” he
said, “you're not going to
be called upon to decide
whether there was a corrupt
relationship between Mr.
Israni and Steve Castaneda
– whether the law had been
broken, whether it was
about to be broken,
whether it was ever going to
be broken between the two
of them. Because that's not
the test.”

He could just as well have
told the jury that it wouldn't
have to decide if
Castaneda was a hit man
for the Mexican Mafia – or
was about to become one.
So put that out of your mind.

True to his word, O'Toole
has introduced no evidence
to suggest an illicit
relationship with Israni. The
developer testified for two
hours and came across
about as corrupt as Gandhi.

As for the alleged lies, the
most famous concerned
whether Castaneda, by
renting in Israni's complex,
had been angling for a
price break when it turned
into a condo. Castaneda
told an investigator, “I was
not planning to buy a condo

To prove otherwise, the
District Attorney's Office
flew down from Washington
the rental agent who
showed Castaneda the
apartment. She testified
that Castaneda asked her
how much it would cost
once it became a condo.

Can you imagine that? A
Southern Californian
curious about the price of
real estate?

O'Toole is lucky he didn't
have to assemble a jury of
people who wouldn't ask
that very same question. I
doubt he could find 12.

The jury that did assemble,
meanwhile, hardly seems to
be in the prosecution's

I'm no expert on body
language, and would never
try to predict a jury vote.
However, when jurors laugh
at your questions, or roll
their eyes, or mutter under
their breath, it's probably
not a good thing.

Those things happened
Monday when O'Toole's
own investigator was on the
witness stand. He and
O'Toole had such profound
communication problems it
was as if they'd just met,
rather than having worked
on this case for two years.

Later, during the cross-
examination, the court
waited four minutes while
the investigator and
O'Toole looked for a key
passage in a transcript. I'm
sure it took four minutes
because I was watching the
jurors who were turning
around in their chairs to
watch the clock.

When the passage was
found, one juror held up
four fingers for the others
to see.

I don't want to jump to
conclusions. Maybe
Castaneda will be found
guilty. Maybe he's a hit man.

But we've all heard of
runaway juries, and my
guess is that this one wants
to run away from this
curious case as fast as it

No Delay for Chula Vista
Councilman Trial

Fox News Channel 6
San Diego
April 8, 2007

A judge Monday denied a defense
request to delay the trial of a
Chula Vista city councilman
accused of lying to a county grand
jury about his personal interest in
a condominium conversion project.

Attorney Marc Carlos
unsuccessfully urged Judge
Michael Wellington to postpone
trial for Steven Castaneda based
on a pending motion in another
case alleging that Hispanics are
underrepresented in the downtown
jury pool.

Jury selection in Castaneda's trial
is scheduled to begin Tuesday
morning. His trial is expected to
last two weeks.

Though his attorney wanted more
time to prepare, Castaneda told
reporters outside court that he's
looking forward to getting the
matter behind him so he can get
back to his job as a father, council
member and businessman.

"I'm very, very happy that this day
has finally come," Castaneda said.

The councilman -- who is running
for reelection -- thanked his
opponents for withholding
judgment until the criminal matter
is resolved.

Castaneda contends the charges
are part of a "politically motivated
witchhunt" against him.

He has alleged that San Diego
County District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis ordered the investigation
into his personal interest as a
favor to Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl
Cox, whom Castaneda
unsuccessfully challenged in the
June 2006 mayoral primary.

Castaneda was indicted last June
on 13 felony perjury charges and
two misdemeanor counts of failing
to disclose income on a statement
of economic interests regarding a
separate 2006 land deal in Chula

Castaneda was a renter at
Sunbow Villas apartment complex
when its owners decided to
convert the property and he
allegedly considered becoming a

Castaneda ultimately did not buy a

Prosecutor Patrick O'Toole said
earlier that he has no evidence
that Castaneda received special
treatment at Sunbow or that the
councilman lived at the complex
for free and gave official benefits
to the developer in return.

The perjury charges relate to
Castaneda's alleged lies
pertaining to the facts of the case
in front of the grand jury, O'Toole
Finally, Dumanis
and O'Toole are
ready to let go of
whatever it was
that was
them--or maybe
"it" let go of them?
San Diego
Channel 10

Case Against Chula
Vista Councilman

May 2, 2008
UPDATED: 5:53 pm

Prosecutors announced
Friday they will not
pursue four unresolved
charges against a
Chula Vista city
councilman who was
accused of lying to the
county grand jury
regarding his personal
interest in an apartment
complex that was being
converted into

Steve Castaneda was
acquitted April 23 on
six of 10 perjury
counts, and
prosecutor Patrick
O'Toole said Friday
that his office was
dropping the case.

O'Toole's boss,
District Attorney
Bonnie Dumanis,
issued a statement
Friday afternoon
following a hearing
before Judge Michael
Wellington, who
dismissed the
remaining counts.

"If a crime has been
committed and we
believe we can prove
it beyond a
reasonable doubt, we
have a duty to file
charges," she said. "I
would like to thank the
jury for its effort in
trying to decide this
difficult case.

"Given the not guilty
on some counts and
the impasse on
others, today we
asked the court to
dismiss the remaining
charges in the interest
of justice. The District
Attorney's Office will
continue fulfilling its
duty as a watchdog
on behalf of the

From the time he was
indicted last year,
Castaneda maintained
the charges against him
were politically
motivated. He alleged
that Dumanis ordered
the investigation as a
favor to Chula Vista
Mayor Cheryl Cox, whom
challenged in the June
2006 mayoral primary.

The grand jury
Castaneda cleared the
councilman of any
wrongdoing in
connection with his
involvement with the
Sunbow Villas, an
apartment complex
being converted to
condominiums where
his estranged wife was

During a June 2006
Castaneda said he
didn't mention that he
had met the project's
developer, Ash Israni,
because Israni didn't
do anything for him
with regard to the

Castaneda said he
was renting an
apartment at the
complex for his wife
and didn't plan on
buying a condo there
and didn't expect any

The councilman
reiterated his
testimony to the grand
jury five months later.
Patrick O'Toole
Chief Deputy D. A.
Julie Korsmeyer
Bonnie Dumanis
San Diego
District Attorney
San Diego Education
Report Blog
Problem Lawyers Blog

Why This Website



Castle Park Elem

Law Enforcement



Stutz Artiano Shinoff

Silence is Golden

Schools and Violence

Office Admin Hearings

Larkins OAH Hearing
Site Map