Koreatown Consultant and Former California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control Official Indicted in Long-Running Bribery Scheme
LOS ANGELES – A former official with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from a consultant in exchange for taking official acts to financially benefit the consultant, including initiating ABC enforcement actions designed to generate consulting fees, according to a federal grand jury indictment announced today by United States Attorney Nick Hanna and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt.
The two men charged in the corruption scheme are:
Wilbur M. Salao, 46, of Bellflower, a 21-year ABC employee who was a district administrator in the Los Angeles Metro ABC office from 2010 until he left the agency in May 2017; and
Scott Seo, also known as “Seung Hye Seo” and “Scott Hoon Seo,” 49, of San Pedro, who was employed by the ABC for 15 years before starting his consulting business, Alcoholic Beverage Control LLC (ABC LLC), in 2006.
The 13-count indictment was unsealed on Wednesday when Salao was arraigned in United States District Court. At that time, Salao entered a not guilty plea, was released on a $20,000 bond and was ordered to stand trial on December 11 before United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt.
Seo surrendered on Thursday and was arraigned that afternoon. He also pleaded not guilty and was released on a $20,000 bond.
The indictment specifically alleges that Seo paid Salao over $28,000 in bribes and kickbacks from the beginning of 2014 through the spring of 2016.
In exchange for the payments, Salao allegedly performed official acts, including directing ABC enforcement operations and disciplinary actions against businesses selected by Seo, sharing non-public information with Seo, revealing confidential law enforcement activities in Koreatown, and expediting the licensing process for Seo’s clients.
“We will not tolerate the shakedown of local businesses by corrupt public officials and their cohorts,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “The brazen conduct alleged in this case compromised the integrity of a state agency, provided preferential treatment to businesses that paid bogus consulting fees, and padded the pockets of a senior ABC official. All businesses subject to enforcement and licensing requirements should be able to play on the same level field.”
“Mr. Salao is alleged to have enriched himself with bribe payments in exchange for using his government position to target businesses in Koreatown on behalf of his codefendant, Mr. Seo. Moreover, the pair attempted to thwart legitimate law enforcement action, putting police officers in harm’s way,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Rooting out this kind of corruption is necessary in order for businesses to operate legitimately, without fear of reprisal by those in positions of power or influence.”
Seo has operated ABC LLC over the past 13 years, marketing his services through various means in Koreatown, a neighborhood located in City Council District 10 in central Los Angeles.
As part of the scheme, Seo targeted Koreatown businesses for ABC enforcement actions, which allowed Seo to sign new clients, generate consulting fees from existing clients, and attempt to force a business to sell its establishment to Seo and his associates, the indictment alleges.
The indictment outlines a series of official acts allegedly taken by Salao that implicate at least eight businesses in Koreatown and were designed to benefit Seo’s consulting business. For example, in late 2011, after the ABC raided a Koreatown establishment, Seo charged the business $60,000 in cash, some of which was used to pay Salao, who issued a temporary license that allowed the establishment to continue operating.
Between 2014 and 2016, Seo allegedly sent Salao lists of businesses for the ABC to target, which included suggested violations, such as operating after hours. In communications between the two men outlined in the indictment, they discussed how Salao would provide benefits to Seo’s clients and would impose more severe penalties on businesses that did not utilize Seo’s services.
In private discussions outlined in the indictment, Seo and Salao referred to their scheme as “Asian Persuasion Control” and “Asian Persuasion Coalition.”
Additionally, according to the indictment, Salao learned of impending enforcement actions by the ABC and the Los Angeles Police Department in Koreatown and provided information to Seo, including a photo of an undercover LAPD officer. This information allowed Seo to warn his clients and shield their illegal activity from police.
Salao and Seo are charged in the indictment with conspiracy, four counts of honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud. Seo is charged additionally with four counts of bribery.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
If convicted of the charges in the indictment, Seo would face a statutory maximum sentence of 205 years in federal prison, and Salao would face up to 164 years.
This case is part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Any member of the public who has knowledge about this case – or who would like to report similar allegations of corruption by public officials – is encouraged to contact their local FBI Field Office. In Los Angeles, the FBI can be reached 24 hours a day at (310) 477-6565. Foreign language speakers can be made available.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Veronica Dragalin of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.