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FBI arrests Commerce councilman in witness tampering case

April 1, 2010 |  1:20 pm

FBI agents arrested a City of Commerce councilman this morning after a grand jury indicted him and two family members for allegedly trying to hide illegal campaign contributions.

Robert C. Fierro, 39, the mayor pro tem of the industrial suburb, also is accused of telling a friend to lie to the FBI. His sister-in-law Ana Perez allegedly lied before the grand jury, and the politician’s wife, Linda Fierro, 36, also faced charges, including witness tampering.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce Searby said the councilman was trying to obscure large contributions that he allegedly had obtained illegally during his election to City Hall in 2005. Searby said such gambits manipulate voters, who are blinded to potential conflicts of interests that may allow the people they elect to “operate in the shadow of influence.”

“The public is entitled to know who is truly funding an election campaign,” Searby said Thursday. “There could be a hidden agenda behind a candidate, a hidden source of influence behind a candidate for office.”

Fierro, a grade-school teacher who has worked as a probation officer, has not been reached for comment.

According to the indictment, family members and friends of the then-candidate each wrote $500 checks to Fierro’s campaign in January 2005, when he was first running for office. Fierro then allegedly reimbursed the contributions by paying them $1,000 in cash to conceal the true source of campaign funds.

Searby called contributions from such apparent backers "conduit" or "straw" contributions, designed to circumvent limits on campaign contributions and hiding a source of illegally excessive donations.

“Let’s say I’m trying to help you win an election, and I want to give you $10,000 instead of $500,” Searby said. “Then what I may do, and this is illegal, is to get a bunch of people to write $500 checks to you and pay them back. The big guy behind the scenes masks [his] involvement in the campaign.”

-- Hector Becerra

Photo: FBI agents take Robert C. Fierro into custody Thursday morning at the Federal Building in Westwood. Fierro, 39, the mayor pro tem of the City of Commerce, has been indicted by a grand jury. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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