A former San Bernardino County planning commissioner has agreed to plead guilty to channeling bribes through his company to a Baldwin Park city councilman in exchange for the councilman’s votes and influence on the city’s cannabis licensing process, the authorities said US Attorney’s Office on Friday.
As part of a plea bargain, Upland resident Gabriel Chavez, 65, will plead guilty to a count of bribery and has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators from the FBI and IRS in a larger, ongoing investigation involving officials across Southern California.
Former Baldwin Park councilman Ricardo Pacheco struck a similar deal in 2021 after he was caught taking bribes to support a deal with a police union. Pacheco’s plea agreement shows that the case and the Chavez cannabis program are all part of the same investigation.
Chavez was appointed to the San Bernardino County Planning Commission in June 2018, but resigned in November 2018 after the FBI issued a search warrant at his home. Baldwin Park City attorney Robert Tafoya and former Compton councilman Isaac Galvan were searched at the same time.
In an interview at the time, Chavez said he didn’t know why he was being investigated.
Chavez’s Claremont-based internet marketing firm Market Share Media Agency acted as an intermediary between Pacheco and at least two companies that paid him to intervene in Baldwin Park’s 2017 cannabis launch, according to US attorneys. Pachecho kept 60% of the bribe and the rest went to Chávez.
The two companies paid Chavez $170,000 and Pacheco up to $93,000. Chavez used encrypted text messages to let Pacheco know when he was due to pass on bribes, describing the payments as depositing “documents.”
In an exchange of texts, Pacheco urged Chavez to “check the printing on the documents” because he had not provided enough cash at a previous meeting.
“Last time the print was too light,” wrote Pacheco.
“Haha…this time it’s full color ink,” Chavez replied less than 20 minutes later.
The former planning commissioner kept a running list of the bribes in a draft email with the subject “Dodge Truck.”
money for votes
In turn, Pachecho not only voted for the companies on two separate occasions, he also helped secure the necessary votes from other city council members, the US Attorney’s Office said.
Both companies received permits.
Some of the bribes were disguised as consultation payments between an officer identified as “Person 14” and Chavez’s marketing firm, using a template for a sham “consultation agreement” provided by Tafoya, the Baldwin Park City Attorney, pursuant to the plea agreement .
Tafoya, referred to as “Person 1,” is said to have told Pacheco that Chavez could use the agreement to approach companies seeking cannabis cultivation deals, according to Pacheco’s separate plea agreement. Tafoya’s number was at the bottom of the template.
“Person 14” awarded a $14,500 no-bid contract in Huntington Park to Chavez’s company and donated $5,000 to a church affiliated with the school attended by Pacheco’s child, the agreement said.
The agreement between Person 14 and Chavez included a non-disclosure agreement.
“Discretion is a must”
“Discretion is a must for us and is most valued,” the two men said in an email.
The officer is unidentified, but his description, which says he is the city manager of Commerce and a former board member of the Montebello Unified School District, matches Edgar Cisneros, the former city manager of Huntington Park. He wasn’t charged.
Tafoya has not been charged and “will not be,” said his attorney Mark Werksman.
“The statement of fact does not implicate him in any illegal or improper conduct,” Werksman said. “It merely describes a large group of city officials used by the criminal conspiracies to achieve their criminal ends.”
The city attorney was unaware that a bribery scheme was underway and didn’t help, Werksman added.
Tafoya is still Baldwin Park’s city attorney, although an outside attorney now handles cannabis-related matters. Tafoya came under scrutiny last year after it was revealed that one of Baldwin Park’s cannabis permits went to a company called Tier One Consulting, run by Anthony Willoughby and his son Anthony Willoughby II, before being sold to a third party.
Willoughby is the personal attorney for Galvan, a former Compton councilman, and his son was later hired by Tafoya as assistant city attorney to work specifically on cannabis.
Galvan isn’t mentioned directly, but the plea agreement states that Chavez believed Tafoya took one of the marijuana businesses off an agenda at the request of an individual identified as the Compton City Councilman. The same councilman was reportedly upset that a friend had not been chosen to represent the marijuana company in its bid for a Baldwin Park permit.
Chavez met with Pacheco and Tafoya, still identified as Person 1, and “told them Marijuana Company 3 felt they were being blackmailed.”
“Neither Pacheco nor Person 1 have denied this allegation,” the agreement reads. “Instead, Person 1 acted indifferently, implying that it came with (sic) the territory.”
A federal bribery charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/07/former-san-bernardino-county-official-agrees-to-plead-guilty-in-baldwin-park-bribery-scheme/ Former San Bernardino County Official Agrees to Plead Guilty in Baldwin Park Bribery Scheme – Orange County Register