Two former city officials in California have been sentenced to two years in prison for taking bribes in exchange for assuring those representing themselves as a cannabis company they would get a permit to operate.
The Department of Justice said plea documents confirm David Romero, a former Calexico, California, councilman, and Bruno Suarez-Soto, a former member on the city’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, took $35,000 in cash bribes from “an undercover FBI agent who they believed represented investors seeking to open a cannabis dispensary in Calexico.”
Romero, 37, and Suarez-Soto, 29, “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,” the DOJ said.
They had admitted taking bribes from others in the past, the DOJ said.
According to court documents, they took the $35,000 in two installments.
“At the conclusion of a meeting between the defendants and the undercover FBI agent on Jan. 9, 2020, with Romero looking on, the undercover agent handed Soto $17,500 in cash. The agent asked whether ‘we’re good,’ and Romero responded, ‘Trust me.’ On Jan. 30, 2020, Romero and Soto accepted the second installment of $17,500 in cash,” the DOJ said.
Romero, while on the council, also was serving as Calexico’s mayor pro tem.
The two also were ordered to forfeit $17,500.
In 2020, when they pleaded guilty, the government revealed they demanded the cash payments up front in return for their actions, 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.”
And, the DOJ reported then, when an FBI agent asked them if they would want more money later, Romero said, “This is done. Set and sealed.”
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