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Bloomberg Staffer David Dietz poses on Tuesday, December 24, 2002, in San Francisco, California. Photographer: Noah Berger/Bloomberg News.

David Dietz, investigative journalist, dies at 70

David Dietz, a career journalist who found his calling in public service investigative reporting, died Wednesday of cancer at his home in Healdsburg. He was 70.

Dietz was a senior writer for Bloomberg Markets magazine. In his last in-depth article for the magazine, in March, he revealed ways in which some corporations took federal tax credits meant to reduce poverty and used them instead for developing office buildings and luxury hotels.

His report, "Gaming the system," led the U.S. Treasury Department to announce that it would make changes.

A sense of right and wrong helped make Dietz the "outstanding investigative reporter" he was, said Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Bloomberg News.

"Like all great reporters, he had an instinctual awareness of injustice," Winkler said. "He never flagged in attempting to infuse that sense of injustice into all of his reporting."

Dietz previously worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was special projects editor for investigative reporting, and the San Francisco Examiner, where he met his wife of 24 years, Joanne Derbort, now The Press Democrat features and Savor magazine editor.

He also worked as an editor and writer at The Street.com, a financial news website, before he was recuited by Bloomberg News in 2001.

In a career that spanned more than four decades, Dietz's reportage touched subjects ranging from the Patricia Hearst kidnapping to corruption in the San Francisco building inspector's office to the exodus to Malaysia of Southeast Asian refugees.

But probes into civic malfeasance, corporate fraud and judicial misconduct were his signature.

A past president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, an organization of 4,600 journalists worldwide, Dietz won more than 25 national and regional awards for his work.

In 2006, he co-wrote a Bloomberg report, "Broken Promises" about $7 billion in tax-exempt public bond deals that Wall Street firms created and then harvested for millions in fees and investment gains.

Dietz and his colleagues showed that only rarely did the intended housing and school projects get money from the bond measures.

The Columbia Journalism Review called the secret practice a "scandal of staggering proportions" and said, "If only more business journalists could be similarly angry."

His peers recalled Dietz as a dedicated journalist of rare patience and skills.

"David Dietz was one of the best, though not best known, investigative reporters in America," said David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times reporter who won a 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on tax code issues.

"He undertook the very difficult task of combing through incredibly arcane documents that few people know even exist and translating into plain English how taxpayers are getting routinely ripped off," Johnston said.

Dietz was born April 30, 1941, in Syracuse, N.Y., grew up in New York City and Westfield, N.J., and studied history at Rider University.

He took to journalism early, during visits to the Newark Star Ledger, where his father worked.

After early reporting jobs at the Asbury Park Press and the Jersey Journal, he moved in the late 1960s to the San Francisco Bay Area, joining the Marin Independent Journal first as a reporter and later as city editor.

Dietz was a wine lover and unabashed foodie. He was also a skier, backpacker, hiker, fly-fisher and all-around athlete, his wife said.

Twenty years ago, they started riding lessons on a dare and so began a powerful love affair with horses and dressage. He also had a passion for art, dance, and all forms of music, from rock to jazz, opera to rhythm and blues.

"David was a gentle, capable man who believed in the ability of truth to affect power," Derbort said. "He used polite tenacity and easygoing persistence in his work and carried it into every aspect of his life. He was strong, even-keeled and upbeat. He was my rock, my anchor, my dance partner."

His survivors also include his sons, Bob Dietz of San Jose and Bill Dietz of Tahoe City; his sister, Debby Dietz Davis of Hudson Valley, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.

Services are private.

The family requests donations to any of the following organizations: Investigative Reporters and Editors, the San Francisco Opera, or Worth Our Weight, a Sonoma County nonprofit culinary apprenticeship program for underserved youth.

-- Jeremy Hay

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