This took place via video teleconference, and although the two were charged, they were released on $10,000 personal appearance bonds. However, they will have to go before the court again on July 2 to receive sentencing.
The Cannabis Bribery Scheme
According to the official charges, the FBI alleges that Romero and Suarez-Soto accepted $35,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents who were trying to fight back against the city’s corruption. In exchange for this money, Romero and Suarez-Soto apparently guaranteed that the city would quickly and definitely insure a permit for a dispensary, even if that meant revoking other permits or getting in the way of other applicants. Both of them also admitted to taking other bribes in the past, claiming, “This isn’t our first rodeo.”
This is no small scandal, considering that Councilman Romero was set to become the next mayor of Calexico. If this charge of being part of a cannabis bribery scheme hadn’t happened, he would have become mayor in July of last year. Suarez-Soto was on the city commission that deals with business and community growth, including working with prospective developers to grow the city’s economy and infrastructure.
“Public officials must act with honesty and integrity when doing the public’s business,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “If civic leaders won’t uphold these standards, we will. We allege that these defendants traded on their positions of trust, selling the integrity of government in exchange for thousands of dollars. We will vigorously enforce the law whenever a public official puts his own greed ahead of the interests of his constituents.”
“Public corruption remains the FBI’s top criminal priority. As such, the FBI in San Diego and Imperial County has a robust public corruption program that is dedicated to uncovering criminal conduct of public officials,” said Acting FBI SAC Omer Meisel. “The investigation of Mr. Romero and Mr. Suarez-Soto serves as another example of the FBI’s commitment toward accountability for those serving the public and holding positions of trust.”
Allegedly, according to the official report regarding the cannabis bribery scheme, they met at a restaurant in Calexico back in 2019 with the undercover agents. They then agreed to fast-track the application for a dispensary permit and promised that, in exchange for the $35,000 bribe, they would delay permit applications for other interested parties, if that’s what it took to get the dispensary up and running for the undercover officers.
Then, later, when asked if they needed more than the $350,000 to make it happen, they claimed they did not.
“This is done. Set and sealed,” Romero allegedly said. They did, however, make sure the money was paid up front because they had done this before with others who hadn’t paid, and then favors had been given, so they wanted to ensure payment. They finally agreed to accept two payments, one up front and one “when it’s a for-sure thing.”
Romero also claimed that he had ins to make things happen because those who would approve licenses are his “best friends at the entire City Hall.” When asked if his friends had already signed off and agreed, he replied “Fuck yeah!”The deal was sealed when the undercover agent actually handed Suarez-Soto $17,500 in cash and explained that the bribe was divided into $8,800 for each of them.
Now, both men are being charged of lying to the FBI when interviewed and denying being part of these agreements, as well as actually accepting the bribe and alluding to past bribes and further corruptions. Following these charges, things are not looking good for Romero and Suarez-Soto.