Admitting what is believed to be the largest-ever bribe of a public official during a sting, a former Moreno Valley councilman had agreed to plead guilty to taking $2.36 million from an undercover FBI operative, authorities announced Tuesday.
Marcelo Co, 64, is accused of taking the massive bribe from a person posing as a real estate agent whom the councilman allegedly told he could guarantee favorable land-use decisions in the Inland Empire city.
Co agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to one federal bribery count and one federal count of filing a false corporate tax return, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced. He was charged Tuesday.
“Mr. Co orchestrated an elaborate and brazen scheme to undermine the democratic process in Moreno Valley,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. in a news release. “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.”
The two charges could send the ex-councilman to federal prison for up to 13 years, the news release stated.
Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach and Birotte discussed the case at a news conference in Riverside Tuesday morning.
Co was elected in November 2010 and resigned last August when he was charged in an unrelated welfare fraud case.
“Mr. Co regularly traded votes, land and confidential information in exchange for cash to fund his personal bank account, rather than what was in the best interest of the residents of Moreno Valley,” said Bill Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The FBI worked with IRS criminal investigators, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the case as part of an ongoing investigation of the Regional Corruption Task Force.
Court documents allege that Co promised to always vote for decisions that favored the supposed real estate broker, from whom Co allegedly solicited campaign donations.
Co owned a 30-acre parcel of land, appraised at $710,000, that he agreed to sell to the broker, promising to have the City Council change the zoning so that the property’s value would increase dramatically.
He allegedly told the broker to pay $5.36 million for the land, with $2.36 million going directly to Co and $3 million being listed as the sale price on public documents. Co allegedly accepted the $2.36 million in cash at a meeting on Jan. 30, 2013.
Co also allegedly failed to report more than $112,000 in income for his company, Qwik Pack Systems, resulting in the federal tax charge.
Co was expected to appear in federal court in early December, after which point he will be scheduled to formally enter guilty pleas.