Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda took the stand in his own defense yesterday. Castaneda was charged with 13 counts of felony perjury, but the judge dismissed three of those charges Tuesday. Castaneda, who is seeking reelection,
said he ran for office to make a difference in Chula Vista. “It was where my family was, it was where I wanted to invest my time and
do my community a good job,” he said, his voice breaking. Prosecutor Patrick O’Toole charged Castaneda last year with 13 counts of felony perjury. O’Toole said Castaneda “lied about the facts” to obstruct an investigation into corruption allegations involving Castaneda and real estate developer Ashok Israni. Judge Michael Wellington on Tuesday dismissed three of the perjury charges for lack of evidence. Yesterday in downtown San Diego Superior Court, Castaneda testified that it wouldn’t have occurred to him to lie. “I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. During three hours of testimony that at times strained Wellington’s patience,
Castaneda answered questions about his family, his volunteer work on city planning commissions, his career, his election campaigns and his duties as a councilman. Several times, Wellington asked O’Toole to condense his questioning, saying, “I think the jury has heard this.” About a dozen family members and supporters were in the courtroom, with some wearing “Steve Castaneda for Mayor” buttons from his unsuccessful campaign two years ago. Other witnesses yesterday included Castaneda’s aide, Linda Wagner, and a friend, Daniel Hernandez. O’Toole, who is head of the Public Integrity Unit of the District Attorney’s Office, began investigating Castaneda based on a tip that Castaneda used his position to receive free rent or a discount in 2005 on a converted condominium from Israni, president of Pacifica Cos. O’Toole found no evidence of wrongdoing.