IE Mayor, City Council Members Raided by FBI, IRS in "Political Corruption Investigation"

Municipal leaders and at least two businessmen were involved in the raid

By Tony Shin and Jonathan Lloyd
|  Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013  |  Updated 11:04 PM PDT
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At least six homes, including every member of the Moreno Valley City Council, were searched by FBI, IRS and US Attorney's Office agents Tuesday. Investigators would only say the raids are a part of a political corruption investigation. Moreno Valley residents are accusing the municipal leaders of selling votes for campaign contributions. Tony Shin reports from Moreno Valley for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on April 30, 2013.

Tony Shin

At least six homes, including every member of the Moreno Valley City Council, were searched by FBI, IRS and US Attorney's Office agents Tuesday. Investigators would only say the raids are a part of a political corruption investigation. Moreno Valley residents are accusing the municipal leaders of selling votes for campaign contributions. Tony Shin reports from Moreno Valley for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on April 30, 2013.

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Federal agents served warrants at six Riverside County homes, including those belonging to members of the Moreno Valley City Council, as part of a corruption investigation.

Agents with the IRS, FBI and U.S Attorney's Office spent several hours collecting items from his home including computer hardware. The raids began early Tuesday.

Moreno Valley Mayor Tom Owings was among the subjects being investigated. He said he did not know specifically why he and his colleagues were part of the probe.

"Obviously, I feel innocent of any wrongdoing," Owings said.

The homes of council members Jesse Molina, Richard Stewart, Marcelo Co and Victoria Baca were also raided.

Investigators would not give any details about the raids, only saying that they are a part of a political corruption investigation.

Moreno Valley residents Deanna Reeder and Nina Ramos Hiers helped create an 800-page complaint about the city leaders, which they gave to the attorney general’s office last year.

"They sold their votes," Reeder alleged.

The complaint accuses the council of engaging in a kick-back system with local developer Iddo Benzeevi, owner of Highland Fairview Developers, which is located a block down the street from city hall.

Federal agents on Tuesday raided the corporate offices of Fairview Developers and the home Jerry Stephens, a realtor who, according to Reeder, has strong ties to Benzeevi.

Critics accuse Iddo Benzeevi of getting sweet land deals from council members on the taxpayers’ dime.

"He seems to be the Godfather of Moreno Valley and we've been yelling and screaming about this man taking advantage of the citizens here," Ramos Hiers said.

Ramos Hiers claims Benzeevi has been giving campaign contributions to the council in exchange for votes on certain high-priced land deals, including a nearly two-million-square-foot Sketchers distribution center.

"Whatever Iddo Benzeevi wants, Jerry Stephens does and so does the council," Reeder said.

When asked about the allegations that he may be a pawn for a powerful business, Moreno Valley’s mayor appeared upset by the question.

"I'm a 63-year-old businessman, I'm no pawn to anybody," Owings said.

NBC 4 tried repeatedly to contact Iddo Benzeevi, but so far the calls have gone unanswered.

A Moreno Valley City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night.

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