Two Calexico city officials were charged with accepting cash bribes in exchange for the quick issuance of a cannabis dispensary permit, the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of California announced.
Elected councilmember David Romero, 36, and Bruno Suarez-Soto, 28, were arraigned on May 21 via video conference and released on $10,000 bonds.
The two men are accused of accepting $35,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believed represented investors seeking to open a cannabis dispensary in Calexico, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
In return, they "guaranteed" they would speed up the permit process for the dispensary and impact other applicants if needed to ensure the application was successful, according to the office.
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Romero was set to become the mayor of Calexico in July and Suarez-Soto was recently appointed to the city’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission.
The U.S. Attorney's Office reported both men admitted to taking bribes in the past.
They allegedly told the FBI agent, "This isn't our first rodeo."
At a meeting with the agent and according to court records, Romero reminded the agent how difficult it was to work with the Calexico, and how fortunate it was that the agent was working with Romero.
Soto later added that in return for the bribe, Romero would cut through “so much bulls*** [red] tape that exists” with the city.
Court documents further allege both men also admitted to creating a shell corporation to launder the proceeds of their bribery scheme.
“Public officials must act with honesty and integrity when doing the public’s business,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “If civic leaders won’t uphold these standards, we will. We allege that these defendants traded on their positions of trust, selling the integrity of government in exchange for thousands of dollars. We will vigorously enforce the law whenever a public official puts his own greed ahead of the interests of his constituents.”
If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Their next court date is July 2.
NBC 7 reached out to the accused for comment and has not yet heard back.