Updated at the bottom with the juicy, 143-page criminal complaint against three allegedly “freewheeling” city scumbags.
Government corruption in the small southeast city of Bell made national headlines all throughout 2010 — even earned the Los Angeles Times a Pulitzer. And if you ask the locals, it was only a matter of time before elected officials in Cudahy, its sister city, were exposed for a similar culture of corruption.
The FBI staged a dramatic raid in the small, majority-Latino town this morning, reports the Times, to arrest Mayor David Silva, along with City Councilman Osvaldo Conde and ex-Assistant City Manager Angel Perales. (Suspiciously, Perales was just fired earlier this week. In the past, he's served as vice mayor and city code enforcer — classic southeast-circle nepotism.)
The U.S. attorney's office wants Silva, Conde and Perales for “soliciting and accepting $17,000 in bribes from someone who wanted to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Cudahy,” according to the Times. We've contacted the U.S. attorney's office for confirmation.
As with the Bell salary scandal, this could be the tip of the iceberg for Cudahy city officials — merely a foot in the door, so to speak, for the feds to expose all else shady that has gone on at taxpayers' expense.
Nestor Valencia, one of the current Bell City Councilmembers who replaced the dirty ones, tells the Weekly today: “I knew this was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.”
Bell had been considering contracting its police officers out to Cudahy. Now, Valencia says: “Thank god we didn't.”
For some background on Cudahy — “an L.A. 'burb mired in gangs, cartels and south-of-the-border-style politics” — see 2007 L.A. Weekly print story “The Town the Law Forgot.”
One telling excerpt, involving the notorious Osvaldo Conde (one of the city leaders arrested today):
In late December, at a holiday gathering at the City Club in downtown Los Angeles hosted by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, [Cudahy City Council candidate Daniel Cota] ran into Bell Gardens City Councilman Mario Beltran, who was perplexed to see Cota, a 29-year-old teacher, hobnobbing and being photographed with Villaraigosa and others.
“Who brought him here?” Councilman Beltran asked onlookers, some of whom are friends of Cudahy's Vice Mayor, Osvaldo Conde, who is running for re-election. “You better watch out,” Beltran warned Cota, the bright-eyed challenger. “Conde will take care of you with his cuerno de chivo.”
Aka, his AK-47. Updates to come.
Update, 12:45 p.m.: Here is the U.S. attorney's press release on the charges. Below that, we've embedded the full criminal complaint — a gold mine of secret nightclub meetings and conniving phone calls. Enjoy.
LOS ANGELES – Special Agents with the FBI this morning arrested the mayor of the City of Cudahy, a member of the Cudahy City Council and the head of the City's Code Enforcement Division on federal bribery charges.
A criminal complaint filed in United States District Court alleges that the three officials from the city in southeastern Los Angeles County accepted a total of $17,000 in cash bribes earlier this year. According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, the three officials requested and accepted cash payments in exchange for supporting the opening of a “medical marijuana” store in the city.
The three officials arrested this morning are:
Osvaldo Conde, 50, a member of the Cudahy City Council, who allegedly accepted two separate bribe payments;
David Silva, 61, the current mayor of Cudahy; and
Angel Perales, 43, who runs the Code Enforcement Division of the Cudahy Community Services Department (and is also the head of the Cudahy Parks and Recreation Department).
Conde, Silva and Perales are expected to make their initial court appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
“The stain left by public corruption is indelible, extending beyond any individual case because of the general erosion of public confidence in government,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “The allegations in this case describe a corrosive and freewheeling attitude among certain officials in the City of Cudahy. The Department of Justice will aggressively investigate and pursue cases like this to ensure that the integrity of good government is protected and preserved.”
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. Martinez stated: “The alleged participation by multiple public officials in a bribery scheme is unfair to the residents of Cudahy. This case will send the right message to corrupt public officials and is a step toward restoring honest stewardship to the City of Cudahy.”
The affidavit summarizes the bribery allegations: “On the afternoon of February 28, 2012, following weeks of bribe solicitations and related discussions, made during recorded meetings and telephone calls, Conde, Silva, and Perales met an FBI confidential informant at the El Potrero nightclub in Cudahy, California. The three Cudahy city officials accepted a total of $15,000 cash as bribe payments. Later that evening, Conde met the confidential informant to receive an additional $2,000 cash as a bribe.”
The 143-page affidavit, which was unsealed this morning, describes an investigation in which federal law enforcement agents recorded a number of conversations with Cudahy city officials. During those conversations, the city officials explained that the Cudahy City Council planned to approve only one or two permits for marijuana stores in Cudahy. According to the affidavit, Perales sought to broker an arrangement between an FBI informant and city officials in which the informant would make cash payments in exchange for the officials supporting a request for one of the permits.
Perales explained to the informant that “[t]here are three parts to this game” – Conde, Silva, and himself, according to the affidavit. Perales also allegedly told the informant that “these guys [Conde and Silva] are not your typical…council people. [T]hey've dealt with, uh, you know, people that throw money down.”
Prior to a meeting with Conde and Silva at a Pico Rivera restaurant, Perales instructed the informant how he should broach the topic of paying the bribes, and later instructed the informant on how to present the bribes, specifying that the payments should be in cash only, according to the affidavit.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
The charge of bribery carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.