The former San Diego mayor whose compulsive gambling turned her into a criminal court defendant is now sharing more of her shocking, tragic story.
After years of keeping a low profile, Maureen O'Connor’s life exploded last week in a maelstrom of worldwide notoriety.
She drew widespread sympathy — and some scorn — for a spiraling, video-poker addiction that depleted her fortune and put her in shame.
O’Connor says family members and friends tried to intercede, but that she wasn't cooperating.
“A lot of times while I was doing it, it was real grief because I lost my parents, my husband, siblings, best friends,” O’Connor recalled in an interview Wednesday with NBC 7. “So I rationalized by saying I could get into what I called 'The Blue Nowhere', and my problems would go away. But they didn't. It just compounded it."
The 66-year-old O'Connor is in now brittle health, two years after the removal of a brain tumor — and what she says was her last wager.
By all accounts, she blew through an estimated $50 million estate left by her late husband and $2 million in un-repaid loans from his charitable foundation.
She’s said to have lost $13 million on a total betting volume of a couple billion in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and, mainly, local tribal casinos.
"Would I have liked NOT to have done it? Yes. But … money was never my priority in life," O’Connor said. "And so maybe that was a problem, because at a time in my life where I was having a lot of stress, then that relieved it."
O'Connor is concerned about her legacy beyond her public service career that included six years as mayor, two terms as a City Council member and stints on the Port Commission and Metro Transit board.
She says she's still got more to offer society.
"I would like to help those that have a gambling problem like myself; I would like to help the families who have to deal with a brain tumor of a loved one," O’Connor said.
"I think I have the ability to work with both those groups, to share what I've gone through in a very public way … so maybe I was put here in a very public way to discuss it and say: 'What are we going to do about it?’ … It’s just a different kind of service."
Eugene Iredale, O'Connor's attorney, says she's about to execute a promissory note assigning — to her late husband's charity foundation — her half-share of potential proceeds from a $7 million lawsuit over a Mendocino hotel she sold years ago.
Repayment of the outstanding debts was a condition that federal prosecutors required of her, in an agreement offering not to press a money laundering case against her for two years – at which time her case will be re-evaluated.