Sheriff's deputies say Patino met who he thought was a hitman at a Carl's Junior restaurant in Santa Ana just two days ago.
Authorities allege Patino was trying to set up the murder of his ex-girlfriend to gain full custody of their 5-year-old son.
"This alleged hitman would follow his ex-girlfriend to a restaurant or a party where she would have a drink or two. After she left, an accident was to be staged to make it appear that she was drinking and driving and died in a car accident," said Jim Amormino, Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Authorities accuse Patino of first asking his friend, identified only as Jose T., if he knew a hitman. After another meeting, Patino allegedly gave Jose T. a photograph of his ex and keys to her car and house. Jose T. then went to police.
"He was the one who essentially saved this victim's life by going ahead and reporting this to law enforcement," said Prosecutor Andre Manssourian.
Prosecutors allege Patino offered to pay $10,000 to the contract killer, whom he thought Jose T. had found for him. Patino did not know, however, the hitman was an undercover Orange County Sheriff's investigator. The undercover investigator was wearing a wire and recorded their conversation in Spanish.
"The alleged act was to occur two weeks after another child custody exchange took place," said Amormino.
Patino is an unlicensed mortgage broker who has a Santa Ana home listed as his business.
Patino is in custody and is now facing charges of solicitation to commit murder.
"It's very fortunate for the alleged victim that we put things together very quick and he did not have time to hire a real hitman," said Amormino.
Patino is being held on $1 million bail. His arraignment was postponed until September 4.