Calexico Mayor Pro Tem David Romero was charged in federal court Thursday with accepting a cash bribe in exchange for a promise of official action by the city.
Also charged was Bruno Suarez-Soto , a commissioner on the Calexico Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission. Both defendants were arraigned Thursday via video conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal. Both were released on $10,000 personal appearance bonds. They are expected to be in court July 2, 2020 before U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo.
According to the charging document , Romero and Soto accepted $35,000 in cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believed represented investors looking to open a cannabis dispensary in the border city. Romero and Soto , in return , " guaranteed " the rapid issuance of a city permit for the dispensary and also to revoke or hinder other applicants if necessary to ensure that the bribe payer's application was successful. Both men admitted that they had taken bribes from others in the past according to the charging document telling the undercover agent , " This isn't our first rodeo." Romero and Soto are reported to have met with the undercover agent on December 19, 2019 at a Calexico Restaurant. The charging document also alleges that toward the conclusion of that meeting , when the undercover agent asked if Romero and Soto might later ask for more than the agreed on $35,000 payment , Romero assured that they would not saying , " This is a done. Set and sealed."
On January 9, 2020 , Romero and Soto attended a second meeting with the undercover agent at a restaurant in El Centro. During this meeting , according to court records , Romero reminded the agent how difficult it was to deal with the City of Calexico and how fortunate it was that the agent was working with Romero. At the conclusion of the January meeting , in the parking lot outside the restaurant , with Romero looking on , the agent handed Soto $17,500 in cash and explained that he divided the first installment of the bribes in two envelopes : one with $8,800 and the other with $8,700. According to the charging documents , the defendants accepted the second installment , $17,500 in cash , at a third meeting on January 30, 2020 in the parking lot of an El Centro restaurant. The charging document also alleges that both men lied to the FBI when interviewed by agents after the January 30 meeting.
Romero , 36 , and Suarez-Soto , 28 , are charged with Conspiracy to Commit Federal Program Bribery. The maximum penalty is5 years in prison ; $250,000 fine.