LOS ANGELES – A former San Bernardino County planning commissioner has agreed to plead guilty to a federal criminal charge for funneling bribes through his company to a corrupt Baldwin Park politician in exchange for the politician’s votes and influence over the city’s cannabis permitting process, the Justice Department announced today.
Gabriel Chavez, 65, of Upland, agreed to plead guilty to a one-count criminal information charging him with bribery. Both the information and Chavez’s plea agreement were filed today in United States District Court, and Chavez is expected to enter a guilty plea in the coming weeks.
The politician who solicited the bribes – former Baldwin Park City Councilmember Ricardo Pacheco – pleaded guilty in June 2021 to a federal bribery charge. Federal prosecutors today also unsealed additional portions of Pacheco’s plea agreement in which he admits to bribery schemes involving Chavez and other individuals.
Pacheco was first elected to the Baldwin Park City Council in 1997 and served as mayor pro-tem in 2018. He resigned from the city council in June 2021 and is awaiting sentencing.
Both Chavez and Pacheco have signed plea agreements in which they have agreed to cooperate in the government’s ongoing investigation.
According to Chavez’s plea agreement, in June 2017, Baldwin Park began permitting the cultivation, sale and manufacturing of marijuana within its city limits. Soon afterward, Pacheco decided to solicit bribe payments from businesses seeking marijuana development agreements and related permits in the city. In exchange for the illicit payments, Pacheco agreed to use his position in city government to assist the companies with obtaining marijuana permits.
Chavez agreed to act as an intermediary to funnel those bribes to Pacheco by using his Claremont-based internet marketing company, Market Share Media Agency. In exchange for the bribes, Pacheco agreed to vote and use his influence over the city’s permitting process to secure marijuana permits for two companies, identified in court documents as “Marijuana Company 3” and “Marijuana Company 4.”
Pacheco and Chavez agreed that Pacheco would get 60% of the companies’ bribe money while Chavez would retain the remainder as payment primarily for facilitating the bribes.
Chavez obtained bribe payments to pass to Pacheco from an individual identified in court papers as “Person 14,” another public official, who was helping Marijuana Company 4 obtain its marijuana permit. To conceal the true nature of the payments, the bribes Chavez accepted were disguised as consulting payments from Person 14’s consulting company to Market Share Media Agency.
From August 2017 to March 2018, Chavez received at least $125,000 from Marijuana Company 3 and at least $45,000 on behalf of Marijuana Company 4, none of which he reported to the IRS as personal income or as his company’s revenue. Chavez paid Pacheco between $80,000 and $93,000 in cash, out of at least $170,000 collected from both companies.
On multiple occasions, Chavez used coded language in text messages to tell Pacheco that he had cash bribes to pass to him. For example, in January 2018, Chavez sent Pacheco a text message stating, “I’m planning to bring all the documents…,” by which Chavez meant he planned to bring Pacheco cash bribes.
Per Chavez’s agreement with Pacheco, the cash payments were in exchange for Pacheo’s votes on the two companies’ marijuana permits and Pacheco’s help securing the necessary votes from other members of the Baldwin Park City Council.
Pacheco performed his end of the bargain, voting in favor of Marijuana Company 3 and Marijuana Company 4’s cannabis permits, first in December 2017 and later in May 2018.
Chavez further admitted in his plea agreement that Market Share Media Agency won a no-bid, $14,500 contract from the City of Huntington Park signed by Person 14. The no-bid contract represented, in part, further compensation for Chavez in his efforts facilitating the bribe to Pacheco to secure the marijuana permit for Marijuana Company 4 in Baldwin Park. To further secure this permit, Person 14 gave Chavez a $5,000 check made payable to the church associated with the school where Pacheco’s child attended.
Chavez was appointed to the San Bernardino County Planning Commission in June 2018 but resigned in November 2018 after the FBI executed a search warrant at his home.
The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation are investigating this matter.
Any member of the public who has information related to this or any other public corruption matter in Los Angeles County is encouraged to send information to the FBI’s email tip line at firstname.lastname@example.org or to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565.
Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas F. Rybarczyk and Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section are prosecuting this case.