More officials could be in trouble as a former Moreno Valley councilman was set to plead guilty in a $2.3-million bribery scheme, possibly the largest financial scheme by an elected official. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.
A former Moreno Valley City Councilman agreed Tuesday morning to plead guilty for taking a $2.3 million bribe from an undercover operative posing as a real estate broker, officials said.
Marcelo Co, 64, faces up to 13 years in federal prison after being charged Tuesday morning with one bribery count and one count of filing a false corporate tax return, according to the United States Attorney's Office.
Co met with the undercover operative who was posing as a real estate broker in the fall of 2012 to discuss the sale of a 30-acre parcel that he owned, according to court documents. Co told the broker that once he had control of the City Council he could change the zoning of the property, dramatically increasing the land value.
Co received payments of $5,000 and $10,000 that were said to be used to finance the campaigns of individuals who would vote with him on land use issues, officials said.
With the City Council election in November 2012, Co told the broker that he had the votes needed to alter the zoning of the property appraised at $710,000. Co proposed that the broker buy the property for $5.36 million, including a $2.36 million cash payment to Co.
Co accepted the $2.36 million bribe in a meeting Jan. 30, 2013 (pictured, right) after publicly filing to sell the land for only $3 million, officials said.
"Mr. Co orchestrated an elaborate and brazen scheme to undermine the democratic process in Moreno Valley," United States Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr. said in a statement. "Whether he was motivated by power or greed, these crimes constitute a wholesale violation of his oath to work for the citizens who elected him."
Co is also facing a false tax return charge in which investigators say Co failed to report well over $100,000 in income on 2010 tax return for his company, Qwik Pack Systems. The tax charge is unrelated to the bribery charge, officials said.
The case is the result of an ongoing investigation comprised of prosecutors, agents and investigators with the FBI, IRS, The Riverside County District Attorney's Office and the United States Attorney's Office.
Co was elected to the City Council in November 2010, but resigned in August 2013 after being charged in state court in an unrelated welfare fraud case, officials said.
Co’s first appearance in federal court is expected Early December.