California city official to admit taking bribes over pot dispensaries

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 18, 2012 7:31 PM
California city official to admit taking bribes over pot dispensaries

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A third former official in the Los Angeles suburb of Cudahy will plead guilty to accepting a $7,000 bribe for agreeing to support a medical marijuana dispensary in the small city, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Former Cudahy City Councilman Osvaldo Conde, 50, who recently resigned his post, has agreed to plead guilty to bribery and extortion charges, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said.

Two other former municipal officials -- ex-Cudahy Mayor David Silva, 61, and Angel Perales, 43, who was acting city manager -- agreed to plead guilty to similar charges, according to prosecutors.

"Mr. Conde greatly regrets his actions. He is stepping up to the plate and taking full responsibility for what he did," Conde's attorney, Manny Medrano, told Reuters.

Each of the three defendants faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines typically call for less time.

They were scheduled for an arraignment in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday and were expected to enter their guilty pleas at a later date.

The case comes amid a crackdown by federal prosecutors on California's massive medical marijuana industry, targeting pot dispensaries and cultivation facilities deemed by the U.S. government to be engaging in large-scale drug trafficking.

The Obama administration's enforcement policies have put it at odds with some local governments in California and other states where cannabis has been approved for medicinal purposes.

California in 1996 became the first U.S. state to decriminalize medical marijuana and was followed by 16 other states and the District of Columbia. But state rules governing the distribution of medical marijuana remain fuzzy, and cannabis is still classified under U.S. law as an illegal narcotic, with no exemption provided for health reasons.

Conde, Silva and Perales are accused of accepting a total of $17,000 in cash from an FBI informant in exchange for supporting a local permit to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Cudahy.

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The payments were made after Conde initially suggested to the informant that he offer them a percentage of the dispensary's profits, according to his plea agreement.

Prosecutors say both Silva and Perales have admitted in their plea agreements to engaging in other corrupt behavior.

Silva, who served on the Cudahy City Council for more than 20 years, has acknowledged taking bribes from several officials, including a developer who wanted to purchase land from the city at a discount price, according to prosecutors.

Perales has admitted to being a "bag man" for city officials who took bribes, including Silva and Conde, and has told authorities that he was aware of election fraud committed during the 2007 municipal election.

Defense attorneys for Silva and Perales could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)