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Ex-Santa Fe Springs councilman gets 2 years in pot shop bribery

SerranoA former Santa Fe Springs city councilman was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday for taking $11,500 in bribes from the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary, an investigation that ignited a widespread corruption probe in nearby Cudahy.

“This was pure greed,” U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson said when he sentenced Joseph Serrano Sr.

Serrano continued to take cash from the owner of the pot house even after being interviewed twice by FBI agents. A day after talking to the agents, he met with the informant outside a Sizzler in La Mirada, where the informant paid him $1,700.

Document: Read the plea agreement.

When he took the bribes in 2010 and 2011, Santa Fe Springs was considering limiting the number of marijuana stores in the city or banning them entirely.

In return for the payments, Serrano promised to help the dispensary owner stay in business and provide him with inside information. Serrano was one of two council members on a subcommittee studying marijuana stores in the city.

In his sentencing memo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph N. Akrotirianakis mentioned recent federal corruption cases in Los Angeles County.

“Corruption at the highest levels of smaller cities' local government appears to be rampant in Los Angeles County and in this judicial district, and the need for general deterrence is acute,” he wrote.

Serrano, a health-insurance salesman, had served as a councilman for nine years. He resigned after his arrest.

After he was shaken down by Serrano, the dispensary owner became an FBI informant. He served the same role in Cudahy, where his taped conversations with Councilmen David Silva and Osvaldo Conde and code enforcement chief Angel Perales led to their indictments.

All three have pleaded guilty to soliciting and accepting a total of $17,000 in bribes. They are awaiting sentencing.

Documents prosecutors released this summer, including taped conversations, revealed Cudahy to be a city steeped in corruption, where bribes seemed an accepted part of doing business. The documents reference fixed council elections, cash passed to city officials in a shoe box and drug runs to buy narcotics for use in City Hall. The investigation is continuing.

Serrano, who struggled to maintain his composure when addressing the judge Monday, said he took the bribes because of financial difficulties. The judge said that wasn’t an excuse.

The former councilman, who also must serve three years probation and pay $10,000 restitution, had asked for probation, while prosecutors sought a 37-month jail sentence.

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-- Jeff Gottlieb

 
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