Three Cudahy city officials accused of accepting bribes from a confidential FBI informant who posed as a medical marijuana dispensary owner were arrested Friday -- one suspect after a four-hour standoff -- in connection with the undercover investigation.
The officials are identified in court documents as Councilmember Osvaldo Conde, Mayor David Silva and Angel Perales, head of code enforcement for Cudahy, a small community just south of downtown Los Angeles. The city officials allegedly demanded and accepted bribes to approve the opening of a marijuana dispensary.
Federal agents were at locations in Cudahy Friday to serve the warrants. All three men were arrested Friday morning.
Aerial video showed police activity at a liquor store at 4949 Clara Street (map), where Conde was taken into custody after he had barricaded himself for more than four hours inside the business, which he owns.
Conde, 50, had been sleeping at the strip mall property, according to FBI officials.
The complaint unsealed Thursday alleges that Conde, Silva and Perales accepted bribes from the confidential informant. Court documents detail several meetings with the informant -- including one at a nightclub during which two of Conde's bodyguards, identified as city employees, displayed firearms.
"Conde repeatedly referred to himself as the leader," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Akrotirianakis.
The three men appeared in federal court in downtown Los Angeles Friday afternoon for a bail hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge John E. McDermott.
The judge ordered Silva and Perales released on $50,000 bonds, but Akrotirianakis argued against Conde's release, describing the stand-off earlier in the day.
"This defendant is a danger to the community,'' Akrotirianakis said, adding that Conde is often accompanied by two "armed guards.''
The judge nonetheless set a $100,000 bond for Conde.
"I'm not going to put somebody in jail for a bribe of $17,000,'' McDermott said.
In one photo unsealed Friday, an unidentified woman at the nightclub is seen holding the firearms (embedded below). The woman is seen wearing Conde's city council badge around her neck, according to the court complaint.
According to the affidavit, the informant met with two Cudahy city officials Jan. 18 at Antigua Latin Bistro in Montebello. The meeting was recorded by FBI agents using surveillance devices.
One of the officials at the meeting was identified as Perales, according to court documents.
Perales and another city official told the informant that in order to "make sure" a permit would be granted to open a marijuana dispensary in Cudahy, bribes between $5,000 and $10,000 on a "cash only" basis should be offered, according to the court document.
"The informant had been instructed that he should expect to make multiple payments -- that he would make one payment in order to have the matter considered, another to have it acted upon, and he should also be expected to come around at Christmas," Akrotirianakis said.
During a Jan. 27 meeting at the Montebello restaurant between Perales and the confidential informant, Perales talked of a discussion he had with Conde about bribe payments from the informant, according to court documents.
Below, an excerpt from the discussion as documented in the complaint:
Perales: There are three parts to this game.
Informant: Oh, there are three parts? Ok.
Perales: Yeah. That is him (Conde), that is Silva, and there is me.
Informant: All right.
Perales: Give Silva a lot less. Give me a little bit more and you will get lot less, but like you will be able to get Silva. And then we will play Silva like he is getting the same amount as what I am getting.
Later during the recorded conversation, the informant asked about a dollar amount.
According to the court complaint:
Perales: One thing, he (Conde) is greedy.
Informant: So, he is going to try to get the most that he can get? Ok.
Perales: Let me tell you, you know how much you will be making around?
Perales: Look at it as an investment. And, a for-sure thing.
Conde, Silva and Perales had another meeting with the informant about a month later at El Potrero. It was during that meeting when they allegedly accepted cash bribes totaling $15,000, according to the complaint.
Conde returned to El Potrero that evening to accept an additional $2,000 cash bribe, according to authorities.
The complaint also mentions a planned "massage parlor" that was under construction. During the Jan. 18 and 27 conversations, city officials and the informant discussed the business, in which Perales was an investor, according to court documents.
And, during an April 11 meeting at a Paramount restaurant, Conde described in Spanish a "massage parlor" he planned to open with several partners, including Perales, according to court documents. The informant asked whether there would "be sex... from morning to evening."
"Yeah, yeah," Conde responded, according to the court complaint.
Cudahy, with a population of about 24,000 in just over 1 square mile, is the second smallest city in Los Angeles County. It is just south of the city of Bell, where eight city officials were charged in a public corruption scheme.
"The stain left by public corruption is indelible, extending beyond any individual case because of the general erosion of public confidence in government,'' said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "The allegations in this case describe a corrosive and freewheeling attitude among certain officials in the city of Cudahy."
There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in Cudahy, which has a moratorium in place regarding their establishment. The city is considering expansion of the moratorium for another year as officials review the current law, according to City Manager Hector Rodriguez.
In 2001, Cudahy code enforcement officers were the center of an investigation involving alleged harrassment of food vendors. The allegations included a case in which one vendor was driven to Santa Monica and told not to come back.
The federal court case was ultimately dismissed.
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City News Service contributed to this report.
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