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Rialto officer in bribery case is placed on unpaid leave

A Rialto police officer charged with accepting a bribe and arranging for an Orange County battery case to be dismissed has been placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the criminal case, Chief Mark Kling said Wednesday.

Officer Aaron Scott Vigil was free on bail after being arrested Monday night by the FBI. He and Orange County lawyer Lawrence Anthony Witsoe were named in a federal grand jury indictment unsealed this week.

Kling said he was placing Vigil on "unpaid, nonpunitive administrative leave."

"I have also ordered an internal affairs investigation into Officer Vigil’s allegations to determine if any department policy violations have occurred," he said.

The indictment handed down June 1 alleges that Vigil, while serving as a task force officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Riverside, agreed to accept a $2,500 bribe.

In the federal case unsealed Monday, prosecutors say Vigil and Witsoe falsely told the Orange County district attorney's office that a client represented by Witsoe in a misdemeanor battery case cooperated with and "provided substantial assistance" to the DEA.

The officer and attorney were unaware the FBI had learned of their alleged scheme and was monitoring the transactions with the help of the district attorney's office.

The alleged scheme began in 2009 when Witsoe told a client who was facing assault and battery charges in Orange County Superior Court that for a sum -- initially $1,000 but later increased to $2,500 -- Witsoe could potentially get the assault case dismissed, according to the indictment.

Witsoe told the client he could have a DEA agent call the district attorney’s office, say that the client was a DEA informant and ask the D.A. to consider the work the client had performed for the federal agency.

Vigil then contacted the district attorney’s office on several occasions and said that Witsoe's client had provided "reliable information" regarding drug traffickers, and that his cooperation led to the DEA's  seizure of $110,000 in drug money, according to the indictment.

When the district attorney dismissed the case, Witsoe instructed the client to wire the $2,500 to his client trust account, and Witsoe then wrote a check to the ex-wife of an associate of Vigil, the document says.

Witsoe told the client he would use the money to pay the officer’s friend and the friend’s ex-wife, according to the indictment.

The indictment charges Vigil and Witsoe with conspiracy. Witsoe is charged with bribery of a public official and the officer with accepting the bribe.

If convicted, Vigil faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in federal prison, and Witsoe faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.


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-- Richard Winton

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