A Calexico City Councilman and his Economic Development Commissioner have been charged with accepting cash bribes in exchange for promises of official action by the city.
The lawsuit states that Councilman David Romero and his Economic Development Commissioner, Bruno Suarez-Soto, conspired to solicit and accept money in exchange for business transactions with the city. The defendants were arraigned via video conference call before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal. They were released on $10,000 personal appearance bonds secured by their own signatures. The next court date is July 2, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivego.
The lawsuit states that Romero and Suarez created a shell company, RS Global Solutions LLC, that would be incorporated in the name of Suarez-Soto and a person not named to appear as a legitimate consulting firm, but would be used to conceal their activities in collecting bribe money in exchange for official acts by the city.
The lawsuit further reads that Romero and Suarez would attend meetings with individuals and groups desiring to open state and locally authorized cannabis businesses in Calexico, and during those meetings would solicit bribes in exchange for fast-tracking and guaranteeing the issuance of permits for those businesses. The lawsuit states that they would use their consulting firm to assist people with the permit application process when in truth the payments solicited from cannabis permit were extracted in exchange for the exercise of public authority by Romero and other acting at his direction.
According to the charging document, Romero and Soto accepted $35,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believe represented investors seeking to open a cannabis dispensary in Calexico. In return, Romero and Soto “guaranteed” the rapid issuance of a city permit for the dispensary, and revoke or hinder other applicants if necessary to ensure that the bribe payer’s application was successful. Moreover, both men admitted they had bribes from others in the past, according to the charging document. Referring to his $35,000 payment, it is alleged they told the undercover agent, “This isn’t our first rodeo,”
Romero was set to become Mayor in July 2020. Soto was appointed by Romero to the Economic Development that is responsible for promoting businesses and community growth and coordinating with prospective developers to help invest in Calexico.
“Public officials must act with honesty and integrity doing the public’s business,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “If civil 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 interest of his constituents.”
Calexico City Manager David Dale released the following statement:
“The City became aware yesterday by way of a News Release from the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California that Council member and Mayor Pro Tem David Romero and Former Economic and Financial Advisory Commissioner Bruno Suarez-Soto have been charged in federal court by the U.S. Attorney with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery in connection with alleged arrangements made between the two and an undercover FBI agent to secure a city permit for a cannabis dispensary in the City in exchange for a cash payment of $35,000. Mr. Suarez-Soto resigned his position of Commissioner on April 22, 2020 citing residency issues.
Mr. Romero and Mr. Suarez-Soto have since been arraigned before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in federal court. All the City knows is that which is contained in the U.S. Attorney’s News Release and this is the City’s first notice of the investigation, alleged activity, or charges.
The City is committed to complete integrity and transparency in its governance and processes and does not condone, and strongly condemns, the kind of conduct alleged by the federal prosecutor. Accordingly, the City will cooperate with any follow-on inquiries or requests for information and assistance from either the U S. Attorney or the FBI. The City, through its counsel, has already reached out to the U.S. Attorney. At this early stage, however, the charges are just that, and Mr. Romero and Mr. Suarez-Soto are presumed not guilty of the charges until guilt is proven in a court of law. That said, the City will take action to address these serious allegations which strike at the heart of City governance and integrity.
First, the City is making efforts to determine whether any of its processes were affected by the arrangements described in the U.S. Attorney’s New Release and the charging document. If so, the City will act immediately to ensure that those processes are corrected or abated pending the outcome of the charges.
Second, the City will have discussions with Mr. Romero concerning his continued participation in municipal governance during the pendency of these charges as a member of the Council and Mayor Pro Tem.
Third, the City is not aware of any involvement of any other City employees, appointed Commissioners or City Council Members. If we are made aware, we will take appropriate action.
Any inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the federal officials.”