Commerce councilman pleads guilty in corruption case
A council member in the City of Commerce pleaded guilty Monday to a felony conspiracy charge stemming from his attempts to influence an investigation into his campaign’s financial dealings, the U.S. attorney’s office announced.
Councilman Robert Fierro reimbursed some contributors to his 2005 campaign with cash in a scheme that hid the true source of the funds, according to a sworn statement from his treasurer, who has also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. Later, when he learned of an FBI investigation into the scheme, he urged a contributor to tell “false stories” before the grand jury, the statement said.
Fierro, a preschool teacher, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He said in a brief interview Tuesday that he would resign from his position in Commerce, an industrial city of about 13,000 residents.
“This mistake was contrary to all my beliefs and against everything I have strived to stand for,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Fierro is the second City of Commerce official to be convicted on corruption charges since 2010. That year, Councilman Hugo Argumedo pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after he signed a false affidavit in support of an attorney who was suing the city over legal fees. Argumedo also resigned from office.
The city, about 10 miles southeast of downtown L.A., has been known for its tumultuous political climate. Heated recall campaigns have occurred frequently there in recent years, including an effort to oust Fierro in 2008.
The 2005 election was Fierro’s first political campaign, and he won a narrow victory.
The next spring, Fierro learned of a federal investigation into his campaign, according to a sworn statement from Ana Perez, his sister-in-law, who served as treasurer for the campaign.
Perez and Fierro agreed to influence one contributor to deny the reimbursements in an interview with FBI agents, the statement said. They also told the contributor, who was not named in the court documents, stories he could give to a grand jury to explain how the cash ended up in his bank account.
Fierro and Perez were both prosecuted for their roles in the conspiracy, not campaign finance violations, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Elisa Fernandez.
“It’s unlawful for anyone to try to corruptly influence a witness,” she said. “Witnesses must be given the freedom to speak the complete truth.”