Former City Councilman Marcelo Co has been at the center of a number of scandals plaguing the East Riverside County community of Moreno Valley.
On Tuesday, authorities reported that Co has agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery charge for accepting an over $2.3 million payment from an undercover operative acting as a real estate broker. Co’s bribe was the largest amount of money ever accepted by a public official in the history of U.S. sting operations.
According to the Press-Enterprise, Co met with the operative in Temecula on January 30 and agreed to sell a 30-acre property for $5.36 million. The public documents would reflect a sale price of only $3 million and Co would pocket the remaining $2.36M.
Co’s property, located on the east side of Moreno Valley, was appraised at $710,000 in 2012.
Co told the undercover FBI agent that he could guarantee land-use decisions that could benefit the “land broker.” Specifically, he assured the agent that he would be able to significantly increase the land value once he was in control of the council’s voting majority and could rezone the lot.
He had previously accepted $5,000 and $10,000 donations from the operative in order to assist several key city council candidates in 2012, who he insisted would vote with him in a majority if elected.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office released the photo below, showing Co sitting with piles of money at the January 30 meeting with the FBI agent in Temecula.
“It is a very sad day for the citizens of Moreno Valley when one of their elected council members sacrifices his legal and ethical obligations for power and greed,” Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said in a press conference. “This type of unlawful conduct by Mr. Co undermines the very fabric of good government and what we all hope and expect from our elected officials.”
Co already has a misdemeanor on his record, stemming from a 2011 investigation into complaints surrounding code violations, building without permits and renting out hazardous homes to tenants.
Co will plead guilty to one count of bribery and one count of filing a false corporate tax return for failing to report over $110,000 in income in an unrelated 2010 case. Co’s out-of-court settlement serves as the culmination of a two-year investigation.
“Let me just say this to the good citizens of Moreno Valley: That they deserve better,” Zellerbach said. “They should demand better leadership than this.”
View the FBI affidavit by clicking here or viewing below: