Ex-Member of Santa Fe Springs City Council Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Taking $10K in Bribes from Pot Store Operator
LOS ANGELES – A man who was a member of the Santa Fe Springs City Council was sentenced today to two years in federal prison for taking $10,000 in bribes from the operator of a marijuana store who wanted to influence the city to allow his store to stay open.
Joseph Serrano Sr., 62, who from the end of 2010 through October 2011 served as the mayor of Santa Fe Springs, was sentenced by United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson. In addition to the prison term, which Serrano was ordered to begin serving by December 4, Judge Wilson ordered him to pay $10,000 in restitution in the FBI – which is the total amount of bribes paid by an informant while he was working with the FBI.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Wilson rejected a defense plea for a probationary sentence, saying, “This was pure greed. The defendant sold himself out.”
Serrano pleaded guilty in United States District Court on July 30 to one felony count of bribery. Speaking of the crime today, Judge Wilson said it was “a serious offense that attacks the integrity of government.”
United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. stated: “The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to rooting out corruption and punishing public officials who abuse their positions. Serrano sold out the public he was elected to serve and now he will serve his debt to the public in a federal prison cell.”
Soon after he became mayor about two years ago, Serrano had a meeting with the marijuana store operator, told him that he controlled one other member of the City Council, and asked for $1,500, ostensibly to pay medical expenses for a sick relative. The marijuana store operator subsequently gave Serrano a $1,500 check and, at Serrano’s request, prepared paperwork to make it appear the money was a loan.
After this first payment, the marijuana store operator became an FBI informant and began recording a number of conversations with Serrano. During a meeting in late 2010, the informant gave Serrano $1,500 in cash and Serrano told the marijuana store operator: “I think you’re gonna be fine. I think you’re gonna hang in there” and that Serrano and another City Council member were “behind your cause” and “have your back” with regard to the City’s regulation of dispensaries, according to a plea agreement filed in this case. Serrano also told the informant: “And I have to say, I can’t say to you directly. . . . Because if I say it directly then that’s you, know, . . . that’s bribe
money, . . . . Um, we, you have, we have your back.”
During subsequent meetings in 2011, the informant made several payments to Serrano of between $1,700 and $3,000, according to court documents. During a March 2011 meeting, Serrano asked the informant if he could receive monthly cash payments of at least $1,600, which Serrano stated was the amount of his mortgage payment. “I don't want to say being put on the payroll, but on a monthly basis getting something from you,” Serrano said, according to court documents.
Serrano admits in the plea agreement that he took $10,000 in cash that had been provided by the FBI to the informant, and that the total amount of bribes was $11,500.
“When public officials solicit or accept bribes, taxpayers pay the price and legitimate government services are degraded as a result,” said Bill Lewis, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI will continue to utilize a variety of investigative techniques and to collaborate with our investigative partners and the United States Attorney's Office to address corruption and restore honest government.”
N. Dawn Mertz, Acting Special Agent in Charge for IRS - Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office commented, “Public trust is broken when elected officials use their position of power to commit bribery crimes. No public official gets a free pass to ignore the laws.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS - Criminal Investigation.
Release No. 12-156
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