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Former Moreno Valley councilman caught accepting $2.3M bribe

A former Moreno Valley councilman Co has agreed to plead guilty after accepting a bribe from an undercover agent.
November 5, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Former Moreno Valley City Councilman Marcelo Co has agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery charge. Authorities say the $2.3 million bribe he accepted is believed to be the largest ever accepted by a public official in an undercover operation.

Co, who resigned in August, was charged on Tuesday with one count of bribery and one count of filing a false corporate tax return.

"Mr. Co orchestrated an elaborate and brazen scheme to undermine the democratic process in Moreno Valley," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. in a statement. "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."

In a photo released by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Co was seated at a table with two undercover FBI operatives in January, with millions of dollars in cash in front of them. According the U.S. Attorney's Office, the money was in essence buying not only Co's vote on the city council, but a majority vote as well.

"Mr. Co told the FBI operatives that he would control a voting majority of the Moreno Valley City Council. With this control ... he would be able to guarantee land use decisions, rezoning for example, that would benefit the businessman and the land broker," Birotte said.

Co agreed to vote to approve any project for the businessman and broker, who were actually undercover agents, even saying, "I don't care if it's the [expletive] can of worms." He also said he controlled the votes of two other council members, calling it "Club 3-0," giving him enough votes to "make any changes he wanted."

The U.S. Attorney's Office would not say which council members Co was referring to.

"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, assistant director in charge of the FBI's L.A. field office, in a statement.

In April, federal investigators raided the offices of all five city council members in the city of Moreno Valley. The FBI, IRS and the D.A.'s office raided all of their homes. At the time, no information was released about the raids. Then there was another raid a short time after that, and investigators say that raid involved Co.

Co had represented the city's 4th District since November 2010.

If convicted, the 64-year-old faces up to 13 years in federal prison when he is sentenced. Co has agreed to cooperate with the investigation moving forward. He is expected to appear in federal court in December.


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