Candidates accept money from card room owner

Contributions from Medina of Lucky Chances questioned

DALY CITY — In the closely watched contest for Daly City Council this year, two incumbent candidates have filed campaign finance statements with donations from a controversial casino in neighboring Colma, Lucky Chances.

In campaign finance statements filed by Oct. 5, Councilwomen Maggie Gomez and Carol Klatt reported campaign contributions from the embattled card room, which has seen its owner indicted on tax evasion charges and connected with public corruption charges against a Colma town councilman. The card room has also been engaged in a fight with the state to get its betting limits raised permanently, a fight supported by Colma officials.

Both Daly City councilmembers, however, said the donations, as long as they are reported, should not cast a negative light on their campaigns.

Gomez called Rene Medina, the Lucky Chances owner arrested in March with his niece and nephew on charges of filing false federal income tax returns for the casino and avoiding personal income taxes, a generous person who gives to many nonprofits in the area.

“There’s no problem in taking a donation from him,” Gomez said. “What he does is his business.”

Gomez received a $1,500 donation Sept. 24 from Medina. The card room contributed $500 to Klatt’s campaign in late August.

Klatt said it is when candidates don’t declare contributions that they get into trouble.

When Medina was indicted in March, the local state Senate candidates returned his campaign donations, which ranged in the thousands.

“Anybody that would give you a donation, it’s very welcome, I think,” Klatt said, adding that the state Senate candidates could afford to return the donations.

A federal grand jury indicted Colma Town Councilman Philip Lum Jr. last week on allegations he accepted plane tickets to the Philippines from Medina without reporting them and made votes beneficial to the casino while doing so.

The two incumbents in Daly City are running for re-election, along with Mayor Mike Guingona, against San Francisco financial investigator Leah Berlanga and her former husband, Frank Berlanga, Jefferson Elementary School District Board Member Annette Hipona and Ademan T. Angeles.

Entering into the last month of the campaign, Hipona has nearly double the cash on hand of her nearest competitor, racking up $18,757. Next highest is Klatt with $9,519, Gomez with $9,077, Leah Berlanga with $4,237, Guingona at $4,146 and Angeles at $144.

Frank Berlanga did not turn in a campaign finance statement and could not be reached for comment.

Leah Berlanga received $15,737 in donations, barely beating out Gomez at $15,518 for the most donations received. Klatt received $12,915 while Guingona received $9,746. Angeles took in $11,700 in donations, but $8,000 of that he loaned to himself. Hipona began the statement in July with $22,376 in the bank, taking in just $761 in the past three months.

dsmith@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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