Former SoCal mayor, ten others charged in widespread corruption probe including cockfighting and bribery

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LOS ANGELES, CA – The former Southern California mayor and ten others have been charged in a 34-count criminal complaint alleging widespread corruption, including soliciting and receiving bribes, misappropriation of public funds, and embezzlement, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Former mayor and councilman Ramon Medina, 61, will be arraigned April 29 on six counts of soliciting a bribe, three counts each of conspiracy to commit a crime, embezzlement and failing to file campaign statements, two counts each of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and perjury under oath, and one count of failure to report behested payments.

District Attorney George Gascón said in a press release that Medina will be held accountable for his actions:

“No one is above the law. Public officials should be working to benefit the people, not their own bank accounts. Pay-to-play politics have no place in Los Angeles County, and we are all deserving of a clean government.”

Medina is accused of seeking and receiving bribes from several of his co-defendants who sought to gain favor and do business in one of the county’s most densely populated and smallest cities.

The city outsourced much of its city services, such as legal services, engineering, building inspections, and park maintenance, primarily relying on third-party, private vendors.

Medina, along with City Manager Reuben Martinez and Building and Planning Director David Mango, also allegedly attempted to sell three redevelopment properties owned by the city for less than half their fair-market value to use for a 24/7 charitable bingo hall, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The properties were originally intended to be used for affordable housing.

The complaint also alleged that Medina directed Martinez and other city employees to void parking tickets for friends and solicited bribes from a prospective buyer of the aforementioned bingo hall.

The three defendants allegedly promised potential buyers favorable financing terms and agreed to share a portion of the revenues generated by the bingo hall. In return, Medina is accused of soliciting bribes from one prospective buyer, co-defendant Paul Garcia, to recall a Maywood councilmember.

Medina and his son, Ramon Medina Jr., are also charged for having more than 40 gamecocks and cock-fighting paraphernalia used to train the birds.

Medina, Martinez, and Mango are also alleged to have authorized a general maintenance contractor, Felipe Velarde, to complete construction projects on private properties, including repair work on Mango’s Studio City home, with the use of public funds.

The city paid Velarde $1.53 million during that time – sometimes doubling and tripling payments to him compared to the previous two-year period.

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Martinez, 57, is charged with two counts each of conspiracy and grand theft and three counts each of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds, and Mango, 58, is charged with two counts each of conspiracy, grand theft, embezzlement, and misappropriation of public funds. They are also set to be arraigned on April 29 along with eight other defendants.

The press release lists the other defendants charged in connection with the investigation:

  • Velarde, who turns 61 on Friday, was charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts each of grand theft, embezzlement, and misappropriation of public funds.
  • Ramon Medina Jr., the ex-mayor’s 32-year-old son, is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess gamecocks for fighting purposes.
  • Bingo hall promoter George Del Junco, 51, is charged with two counts of conspiracy and one count of bribing an executive officer.
  • Del Junco’s business associate, Paul Garcia, 57, is charged with three counts of bribing an executive officer.
  • Hector Castillo, 72, runs an engineering firm and is charged with one count each of conspiracy, bribing an executive officer, grand theft, and two counts of embezzlement.
  • Disc jockey George Tello Ramirez, 57, is charged with one count of soliciting a bribe.
  • Recall proponent Felipe Aguirre, 68, who is charged with two misdemeanor counts of failing to file campaign statements.
  • Political consultant Mario Beltran, 43, is charged with one count of filing false or fraudulent recall petitions.

According to prosecutors, Medina was elected to Maywood City Council in November 2015. Five years prior, Maywood outsourced all services, and only a handful of employees remained on the payroll. Even before being sworn in, prosecutors allege Medina was taking bribes.

One of the first bribes was allegedly a $10,000 campaign contribution from Hector Castillo, owner of ECM, for a promise to award a city contact to Castillo if he won the election. Then, on the day he was sworn into office, Medina and fellow newly elected councilman Sergio Calderon celebrated with a catered party at a cost to the city of $3,530.

That same night, according to the complaint, the city hired Michael Montgomery as the new agency attorney for Maywood. Medina began allowing Montgomery to “pad his legal bills” as reimbursement for his campaign contributions, according to prosecutors.

When the interim city manager attempted to block the expenditures and refused to hire Castillo’s construction firm, Medina had him fired and replaced with Reuben Martinez, a customer at his auto repair shop. Martinez quickly approved a $3,500 payment to Montgomery and a $56,000 contract to Castillo.

Prosecutors stated the investigation is on-going.

Medina was convicted of animal cruelty charges in 2015. In that case, Medina’s pit-bull mix was found in an emaciated condition, unable to walk or eat., but had never been taken to a veterinarian. Medina was found guilty of one count of animal cruelty and one count of failure to care.

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