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Rialto police officer, Orange County lawyer indicted on federal bribery charges

June 6, 2011 | 12:46 pm

A Rialto police officer working on a drug task force and an Orange County criminal defense lawyer were in custody Monday after a federal grand jury indicted them on bribery charges of arranging for a criminal case to be dismissed.

Officer Aaron Scott Vigil, 41, of Highland, and attorney Lawrence Anthony Witsoe, 67, of Mission Viejo, surrendered to the FBI after being named in a three-count indictment that was unsealed Monday.

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

The alleged violations are the latest scandal to hit the Rialto police.

In November, two officers quit and four others were severely disciplined after an internal investigation into allegations of sex with strip club workers at police union headquarters.

The investigation came after a waitress at the strip club made allegations of group sex, on-duty sex and other liaisons inside union headquarters and the agency's narcotics office.

In the federal case unsealed Monday, prosecutors claim 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 that the FBI had learned of their alleged scheme and was monitoring the transactions with the help of the Orange County district attorney's office.

The alleged bribery 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 of money -- 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 Orange County district attorney’s office, explain that the client was a DEA informant and ask the district attorney to consider the work the client had performed for the federal agency.

Vigil then contacted the Orange County district attorney’s office on several occasions and explained that Witsoe’s client had provided “reliable information” regarding drug traffickers and that his cooperation led to the DEA seizing $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.

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 alone is charged with bribery of a public official.

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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