LOS ANGELES – The Mayor of South El Monte was charged today with bribery for accepting money from a contractor doing business with the city, as well as accepting a bribe during an FBI undercover operation.
In conjunction with the case filed today, Luis Aguinaga, 48, of South El Monte, agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery.
In a plea agreement filed today in United States District Court, Aguinaga admitted that, from 2005 to September 2012, he took bribes from a contractor doing work for the City of South El Monte and the payments were rewards in connection with the approval of city contracts for the contractor.
The contractor – identified in the court documents as a confidential witness, or CW – made payments to Aguinaga approximately every two to three weeks, shortly after the contractor was paid by the City of South El Monte, according to the plea agreement. If the contractor failed to pay Aguinaga within a few days of being paid by the City, Aguinaga would call and ask for his payment.
The bribe amounts were initially $500, and later they increased to $1,000. According to the plea agreement, the contractor made the bribe payments by placing cash in envelopes that were left in a bathroom at the South El Monte City Hall or were left inside the passenger side pocket of a car.
The plea agreement describes a September 12, 2012 meeting monitored by the FBI where Aguinaga accepted a bribe:
“Defendant was nervous about meeting with CW because Cudahy city officials, including the Mayor, had recently been arrested and charged with accepting bribes. While defendant was speaking with CW, defendant showed CW his cell phone on which he had written ‘don’t talk’ or ‘don’t saying anything,’ and defendant asked CW several times to accompany him to the bathroom. Once they went to the bathroom, CW left an envelope with $2,000 cash on the counter near the sink. Defendant took the envelope containing the money and kept at least $1,000 for himself.”
“This long-running corruption scheme compromised the effective governance of South El Monte,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Corruption like Mr. Aguinaga’s is a threat to government institutions and undermines the public’s trust in all government officials. The residents of South El Monte deserve better.”
Aguinaga admitted receiving at least $45,000 from the contractor.
“Mr. Aguinaga abdicated his civic duty when he made decisions for the city based on bribes he demanded, instead of for the good of the people he was elected to serve,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI will not tolerate corruption by city officials, nor should the residents of South El Monte.”
Aguinaga will be directed to appear for an arraignment in United States District Court in Los Angeles on August 10.
The charge of bribery carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ruth C. Pinkel of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.