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Castaneda cleared Jon Campbell | Thu, May 27 2010 05:13 PM

Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda has been cleared of any wrongdoing after a six- month investigation into his campaign finances.

A written complaint filed by a private citizen in November of last year alleged more than 80 violations of campaign finance law stretching back to Castaneda's 2004 campaign, none of which were found to have any merit.

Castaneda held a press conference on Tuesday to announce the results of the investigation, calling the allegations politically motivated. Castaneda said the ordeal has been a costly distraction for the city.

"This kind of underhanded politicking is bad for Chula Vista and it's bad for our budget," said Castaneda.

The city spent at least $7,490 on legal bills to investigate the charges, and City Attorney Bart Miesfeld estimated that figure would mount to about $15,000 when costs have been tallied.

"It is a crying shame that the city had to spend that kind of money for this garbage," said Castaneda.

The complaint was filed by Angel Castillo and alleged a host of sometimes complicated campaign finance shenanigans. Among the charges were that Castaneda illegally received free rent on his campaign headquarters, that he exceeded the city's contribution limits and that he failed to disclose certain financial transactions when required to do so.

When the charges surfaced, Castaneda said he knew Castillo from years earlier when the two lived in the same apartment complex. At the time, they were involved in a dispute over landscaping in their neighborhood, according to Castaneda.

Castillo could not be reached for comment.

The investigation was carried out by Los Angeles based attorney Julia Sylva.

In her report, Sylva devoted several paragraphs to excoriating Castillo for what she called his "frivolous" and "ludicrous" allegations. She noted that many of the charges leveled against Castaneda have already been reviewed by another regulatory agency,  the Fair Political Practices Commission, and found to be baseless.

The report says Castillo was "misinformed or uninformed" about the very law he accused Castaneda of violating, and suggested the allegations were meant to attract the attention of the media.

Castaneda has maintained throughout the investigation that Castillo was merely the public face of the complaint, and suggested that it had been hatched by political opponents.

At Castaneda's press conference, a number of supporters held signs that seemed to place the blame on Mayor Cheryl Cox, Castaneda's opponent in the current mayoral race and longtime political rival.

Cox denied any involvement in the matter, calling Castaneda's suggestion "insulting." She said she considered the matter closed.

"The city has a fair and orderly process for investigating complaints, and as long as the process was followed, we accept the results," Cox said.

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