Two public officials in Southern California were charged in federal court Thursday with accepting cash bribes in exchange for assistance in garnering a marijuana retail shop permit.
Calexico City Councilman David Romero, 36, and Bruno Suarez-Soto, 28, a commissioner on the city’s Economic Development, accepted $35,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believed represented investors seeking to open a cannabis dispensary in Calexico. In return, Romero and Soto “guaranteed” the rapid issuance of a city permit for the dispensary, and to revoke or hinder other applicants if necessary to ensure that the bribe payer’s application was successful, according to a charging document.
In addition, both men admitted they had taken bribes from others in the past, according to the charging document. Referring to this $35,000 payment, the officials allegedly told the undercover agent, “This isn’t our first rodeo.”
During a Dec. 19, 2019 meeting at a restaurant in Calexico with the undercover FBI agent, Romero and Soto agreed to fast-track the agent’s purported application for a cannabis dispensary permit. The undercover agent then asked if Romero and Soto might later ask for more than the $35,000 payment, and Romero assured him that they would not, according to charging documents.
“This is done. Set and sealed,” Romero allegedly said.
Romero explained that he and Soto would require the money to be paid up front, because they had done similar work for other people, and those people had not paid the agreed-upon fee after the favors had been rendered.
Before the meeting ended, Romero and Soto agreed to accept payment of the $35,000 from the agent in two installments; half up front, and half “when it’s a for sure thing.”
The undercover agent then asked whether the payment of $35,000 would “get us in front of the line” of applicants.
“Hell yeah,” Soto answered.
Romero added that he “didn’t want to say it in front of everybody, but it will.”
On Jan. 9, Romero and Soto attended a second meeting with the undercover agent at a restaurant in El Centro. During the meeting, according to court records, Romero reminded the undercover agent how difficult it was to work with the city of Calexico, and how fortunate it was that the agent was working with Romero. Soto later added that in return for the bribe, Romero would cut through “so much bullshit (red) tape that exists” with the city.
Published: May 23, 2020
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