July 30, 2020

USA: A Former Calexico City, California Democrat Councilman And A Former Commissioner On The City’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission Pleaded Guilty To Corruption Bribery Charges.

U.S. Dept. of Justice
Thursday, June 11, 2020

A former Calexico City, California councilman along with a former commissioner on the city’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, pleaded guilty in federal court today to corruption charges, admitting that they accepted cash bribes in exchange for promises of official action by the city.

David Romero and Bruno Suarez Soto entered their pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal, who set sentencing for Sept. 4, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo. Romero and Soto, who were charged in federal court in May, were allowed to remain free on $10,000 personal appearance bonds secured by their own signatures.

According to their plea agreements, Romero and Soto accepted $35,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believed represented investors seeking to open a cannabis dispensary in Calexico. In return, Romero and Soto 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. Both men admitted they had taken bribes from others in the past. Referring to this $35,000 payment, they told the undercover agent, “This isn’t our first rodeo.”

In addition to being a councilman, Romero served as Calexico’s mayor pro tem, meaning he was set to become Mayor in July 2020. Soto recently resigned from the city commission responsible for promoting business and community growth and coordinating with prospective developers to help them invest in the City of Calexico. Romero resigned from office on June 8, 2020.

The charges filed in the case also allege that both men lied to the FBI when interviewed by agents at the conclusion of a January 30 meeting. Romero falsely denied being part of any agreement with the undercover agent, and denied that anyone had made any “guarantees” to the agent. Similarly, Soto falsely denied making any “guarantees” to the undercover agent and denied receiving any prior payments from the agent.

The FBI investigated the case. Trial Attorney Joshua Rothstein with the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Pilchak of the Southern District of California prosecuted the case.

KYMA published May 22, 2020: Calexico City Councilman charged with corruption.

written by Sumiko Keil
Monday June 8, 2020

CALEXICO, Calif. - Mayor Pro-Tem, David Romero resigns from the Calexico City Council.

The City of Calexico received Romero's resignation Monday morning. Romero's resignation comes shortly after Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge called out Councilmember David Romero to resign.

According to court documents, Romero, and Bruno Suarez-Soto, a commissioner on the city's Economic Development and Financial Advistory Commission, accepted bribes in exchange for promises of official city action. On May 21, a federal judge formally charged Romero and Soto with conspiracy to commit bribery.

They were released on $10,000 personal appearance bonds.

In his letter, Romero stated the following:

“Upon everything that has unfolded in the last two weeks, I strongly believe this is the wisest and most effective decision for the benefit of our city and its citizens.”

The Calexico City Council will now proceed to determine the process to fill the vacant council seat.
The San Diego Union Tribune
written by Kristina Davis
Friday June 12, 2020

The former city councilman and former commissioner admitted to accepting $35,000 in bribes.

A former Calexico city councilman and former city commissioner have pleaded guilty to bribery charges, admitting to accepting cash in exchange for promises to use their official positions to help a potential new cannabis dispensary get permitted.

David Romero, who was set to become the city council’s next mayor, resigned as part of his plea agreement, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Bruno Suarez Soto, who’d been appointed to the city’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, resigned in April citing residency issues, the Calexico Chronicle reported.

“David Romero was about to become the highest-ranking public official in the city of Calexico, but he and his partner-in-crime sold their power and influence to the highest bidder in a secret pay-to-play scheme,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said in a statement Thursday.

The men were charged following an undercover sting, but they both admit in their plea agreements to taking bribes from others in the past. The admission underscores a comment Suarez was recorded saying during a meeting with the undercover agent: “This isn’t our first rodeo.”

According to the plea agreements, the pair accepted $35,000 in cash, split between them, while promising to fast-track the licensing for a cannabis dispensary to open in the Imperial County city. They further pledged to hold up the permits of competitors.

They struck the deal with an undercover FBI agent posing as someone who represented investors for the dispensary.

The pair met with the agent in restaurants in Calexico and El Centro in January, and envelopes stuffed with cash exchanged hands in parking lots on two occasions, according to the complaint.

In one meeting, Romero bragged that the people in charge of approving the license were “my best friends at the entire City Hall,” the complaint says.

Both men also admitted to creating a shell corporation to launder the proceeds of their bribes.

The guilty pleas come less than a month after the two were charged.

In his resignation letter, according to city officials, Romero said in part: “Upon everything that has unfolded in the last two weeks, I strongly believe this is the wisest and most effective decision for the benefit of our city and its citizens…”

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