Two California officials sentenced to two years in marijuana corruption case

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Two former California city officials were each sentenced to two years in prison for accepting $35,000 in cash bribes in January 2020 in exchange for ensuring that a marijuana dispensary application would be successful.

The case reflected the FBI’s determination to crack down on public corruption in California’s marijuana market and revealed publicly the presence if not prevalence of such wrongdoing.

According to the plea documents, David Romero, a former Calexico City Councilman, and Bruno Suarez-Soto, a former commissioner on the city’s Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, accepted the bribes from an undercover FBI agent who they believed represented investors seeking to open a cannabis dispensary in Calexico.

Calexico is about 120 miles east of San Diego.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Soto told the undercover agent at one point in their dealings. Both men acknowledged they had taken bribes from others in the past.

Romero had been set to become mayor in July 2020.

In addition to the prison sentence, Romero and Soto were ordered to forfeit $17,500 each.

“Public officials must act with honesty and integrity when doing the public’s business,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said at the time the charges were filed. “If civic leaders won’t uphold these standards, we will.”