Federal Agents Arrest 3 in Cudahy Bribery Case

Jeff Gottlieb et al., Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2012

The negotiations went down during weeks of profane and elliptical conversation, an FBI informant asking for a hard figure: How much cash would it take to bribe Cudahy officials into letting him open his marijuana dispensary?

Two council members and a longtime city official were arrested by federal agents Friday morning and charged with bribery. But documents released as part of the criminal complaint suggest that the malfeasance is far more widespread. More than 130 pages of wiretapped conversations depict a city rife with corruption, as well as bribery so pervasive that it’s practically expected.

“These guys are not your typical, uh, council people,” the longtime official, Angel Perales, advised the informant in a phone call on Jan. 26, according to a transcript released by the U.S. attorney. “They’ve dealt with, you know, people that throw money down.”

The charges are the latest in a string of corruption allegations that have rocked the small blue-collar cities in southeast Los Angeles County. Bell, Cudahy’s neighbor to the north, saw most of its city leadership indicted in 2010 on corruption charges. Investigations continue in other towns, including Maywood and Vernon, where three top leaders have been criminally charged in the last few years.

The federal investigation also appears to be looking at whether elections in Cudahy were tainted by fraud. {snip}

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After weeks of discussions in restaurants and over the telephone, Perales and City Council members David Silva and Osvaldo Conde allegedly took $17,000 divided in separate envelopes on Feb. 28 for allowing the unnamed informant’s dispensary to operate in the city, according to the affidavit. The federal agents said this was just the first installment; the informant had been told he would be left alone as long “you go back every Christmas.”

Osvaldo Conde

Silva, 61, who is the mayor, and Perales, 43, who ran the code enforcement division, were arrested at their homes. Conde, 50, surrendered at his jewelry store after a five-hour standoff with the FBI. Perales resigned Tuesday before the charges were filed.

Perhaps more disturbing than the alleged $17,000 in bribes were the numerous conversations that brought out sordid details in the transcripts, such as Perales and Conde getting a stake in a new erotic massage parlor. Or a former top city official said to be so “high” all the time that he could not make decisions. Or Conde showing up with a revolver to meet the informant at the El Portrero Club, along with two armed bodyguards who brought “drinks and women, from both the over-21 and under-21 sections.” (The bodyguards were city employees, one at the Parks and Recreation Department, one at code enforcement.)

Or Perales scorning the city prosecutor, Edgar Coronado, for missing the chance to bribe the council to get the much-higher-paying job of city attorney.

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At one point in the transcript, Perales even raised the idea that he and the council members might get a cut of sales from the dispensary, an amount the informant said he expected to be $2.5 million the first year.

“How does the saying go?” Perales asked in Spanish. “Money makes the monkey dance.”

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