LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A Santa Fe Springs City councilman has pleaded guilty to taking thousands of dollars in cash bribes from the operator of a marijuana store who wanted to influence the city to allow his store to stay open.
Federal officials say Joseph Serrano Sr., 62, admitted to taking a total of $11,500 in bribes from the operator of a marijuana store turned FBI informant.
According to the plea agreement, Serrano admitted asking the operator of the marijuana store to pay money in exchange for information about the city’s plans to regulate marijuana dispensaries shortly after becoming mayor at the end of 2010. Serrano also admitted to promising he would do what he could to help the dispensary operator stay in business.
Prosecutors say Serrano was paid $1,500 in cash during his first meeting with the marijuana store operator.
The marijuana store operator became an FBI informant after the first payment and began recording his conversations with Serrano. According to the plea agreement, the informant gave Serrano $1,500 in cash during a meeting in late 2010 and Serrano told him: “I think you’re gonna be fine. I think you’re gonna hang in there” and that he and another City Council member backed him with regards to the City’s regulation of dispensaries.
The informant made several payments to Serrano between $1,700 and $3,00 over several meetings in 2011, according to the plea agreement. During one meeting, Serrano asked for a monthly cash payments of at least $1,600, apparently the amount of his mortgage payments.
The agreement says Serrano asked, “I don’t want to say being put on the payroll, but on a monthly basis getting something from you.”
“Mr. Serrano was hired to be accountable and to set a good example in Santa Fe Springs, but instead he is charged with flouting the democratic process by allowing cash to influence his decisions, instead of the best interest of city residents,” FBI Acting Assistant Director-In-Charge Timothy Delany said in a statement.
Serrano faces about three years in federal prison, according to his plea agreement.