A former Calexico City, California councilman along with a former commissioner on the city’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, pleaded guilty in federal court today to corruption charges, admitting that they accepted cash bribes in exchange for promises of official action by the city.
David Romero and Bruno Suarez Soto entered their pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal, who set sentencing for Sept. 4, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo. Romero and Soto, who were charged in federal court in May, were allowed to remain free on $10,000 personal appearance bonds secured by their own signatures.
According to their plea agreements, Romero and Soto accepted $35,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believed 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 to revoke or hinder other applicants if necessary to ensure that the bribe payer’s application was successful. Both men admitted they had taken bribes from others in the past. Referring to this $35,000 payment, they told the undercover agent, “This isn’t our first rodeo.”
In addition to being a councilman, Romero served as Calexico’s mayor pro tem, meaning he was set to become Mayor in July 2020. Soto recently resigned from the city commission responsible for promoting business and community growth and coordinating with prospective developers to help them invest in the City of Calexico. Romero resigned from office on June 8, 2020.
The charges filed in the case also allege that both men lied to the FBI when interviewed by agents at the conclusion of a January 30 meeting. Romero falsely denied being part of any agreement with the undercover agent, and denied that anyone had made any “guarantees” to the agent. Similarly, Soto falsely denied making any “guarantees” to the undercover agent and denied receiving any prior payments from the agent.
The FBI investigated the case. Trial Attorney Joshua Rothstein with the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Pilchak of the Southern District of California prosecuted the case.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.