RENO, Nev. (AP) — A defendant in a bribery scandal involving the nation's largest public pension fund appears to have shot and killed himself at a Nevada gun club weeks before he was set to go on trial, police said Wednesday.
Detectives made the discovery while investigating the death Tuesday of Alfred Villalobos, Reno, Nevada, police officer Tim Broadway said.
"We got a call of a possible suicidal person at a gun club in south Reno. Officers responded and found Villalobos deceased with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound," Broadway said.
He said police were not releasing any other details.
Villalobos was accused of giving bribes to Fred Buenrostro Jr., a former chief executive of the California Public Employees' Retirement System, in exchange for Buenrostro's help in getting CalPERS to make investment decisions that benefited Villalobos' clients.
CalPERS has more than $300 billion in assets.
Villalobos' attorney, Bruce Funk, said earlier that his client died after a prolonged illness. He was 71.
Funk would not comment later on the suicide report but maintained that Villalobos' death was connected to his "protracted and painful illness," not the upcoming trial.
"He was looking forward to the trial and exonerating himself," the lawyer said.
Villalobos had pleaded not guilty to fraud charges and related counts. He was scheduled to go on trial Feb. 23.
In a court filing on Monday, Funk said Villalobos had gone to an emergency room numerous times over the previous five months and had difficulty communicating during a recent phone conversation.
Buenrostro pleaded guilty last year to fraud and bribery charges. In his plea agreement, Buenrostro said Villalobos, a former CalPERS board member, took him on a trip around the world, gave him casino chips and paid for his wedding in Lake Tahoe, California.
In exchange, Buenrostro said, he forged letters allowing firms connected with Villalobos to collect a $14 million commission on $3 billion of pension fund investments.
Further, Buenrostro said that after he left CalPERS and went to work for Villalobos, he accepted $50,000 to lie to federal investigators in 2010 about their relationship.
Buenrostro is scheduled to be sentenced in May and could face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Thanawala reported from San Francisco.