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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Former Mayor of South El Monte Sentenced to over a Year in Prison Plus Home Detention for Taking Cash Bribes from Contractor

          LOS ANGELES – The former Mayor of South El Monte was sentenced today to one year and one day in federal prison for taking bribes from a contractor doing business with the city – in one instance accepting a bribe during an FBI undercover operation.

          Luis Aguinaga, 49, of South El Monte, was sentenced late this afternoon by United States District Judge Fernando M. Olguin. In addition to the prison term, the court ordered Aguinaga to serve one year of home detention, to perform 3,000 hours of community service and to pay a $10,000 fine.

          Aguinaga pleaded guilty in September to one count of bribery, admitting that he took bribes from a person who performed engineering and construction work for the City of South El Monte and that the payments were rewards in connection with the approval of city contracts for the contractor. Aguinaga accepted the bribes from 2005 until September 2012.

          The contractor – identified in court documents as a confidential witness, or CW – made payments to Aguinaga approximately every two to three weeks, shortly after the contractor was paid by the City of South El Monte. If the contractor failed to pay Aguinaga within a few days of being paid by the city, Aguinaga would call and ask for his payment.

          The bribe amounts were initially $500, and later they increased to $1,000. According to court documents, the contractor made the bribe payments by placing cash in envelopes that were left in a bathroom at the South El Monte City Hall or were left inside the passenger side pocket of a car.

          Aguinaga accepted a $1,000 bribe during a September 12, 2012 meeting that was being monitored by the FBI, and he took the money even though he “was nervous about meeting with CW because Cudahy city officials, including the Mayor, had recently been arrested and charged with accepting bribes.”

          Aguinaga admitted receiving at least $45,000 from the city contractor during the final two years of the bribery scheme.

          “Mr. Aguinaga was an elected public official who abused the trust of his constituents by engaging in a pay-for-play scheme,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “He accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes over several years. This deliberate conduct adversely affected the administration of South El Monte and degraded the public’s view of local government.”

          “Mr. Aguinaga abandoned the community he was elected to serve by basing his decisions on greed and ill-gotten financial gain rather than good government,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “This extensive corruption scheme has thankfully come to an end, and Mr. Aguinaga will pay the price for compromising South El Monte and its residents."

          This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

          This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ruth C. Pinkel of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

Press Release Number: 
17-085
Updated April 20, 2017