Ex-SoCal Mayor, 10 Others Charged in Corruption Probe

No favor was too big or too small for a Southern California ex-mayor who the LA County district attorney says awarded friends with city jobs, contracts and voided parking tickets.

Maywood City Hall. The Los Angeles County city is the most densely populated city in the Golden State. (By User:Geographer at English Wikipedia. Own work by the original uploader, CC BY 2.5, Link)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Most people in the orbit of former Maywood mayor Ramon Medina grew rich off the city’s coffers as he outsourced engineering, legal and construction contracts to his friends and embezzled money from the city, at least according to Los Angeles County prosecutors who slapped Medina and 10 others with 34 criminal charges Thursday.

Medina, now 60, was elected to the Maywood City Council in November 2015. Five years earlier, the city of 27,000 mostly Latino, undocumented and immigrant residents outsourced all its services, leaving only the city manager, city attorney and a few other elected officials on the city’s payroll.

But even before taking office, prosecutors say Medina started taking bribes. First, he took at a $10,000 campaign contribution from Hector Castillo, contractor and owner of ECM Group that according to the charging document was made to ensure that Medina would award Castillo a city contract if he won his election. The same pay-to-play favor extended to attorney Michael Montgomery, prosecutors say.

The bribes eventually turned into business with the city, beginning on the night Medina was sworn into office according to prosecutors.

On Dec. 9, 2015, Medina and Sergio Calderon, newly elected to the Maywood City Council, celebrated with a catered party that cost the city $3,530. Neither the City Council nor the city manager approved the catering or security for the party, prosecutors say.

That same night, the city hired Montgomery as the successor agency attorney for Maywood. Less than a month later, Medina allowed Montgomery to “pad his legal billings” as reimbursement for his campaign contributions according to prosecutors.

But an unnamed interim city manager refused to authorize the payment and marked it down as an unauthorized expense. The interim city manager also refused to hire Castillo’s construction firm, the charging document says.

That resistance didn’t last long, because sometime in April 2016 Medina had the interim city manager fired. Prosecutors say Medina then hired Reuben Martinez, a customer at his auto repair shop who had no previous experience in city government. Martinez then approved a $3,500 payment to Montgomery, according to the charging document.

Martinez also approved a $56,000 contract to Castillo even though the city did not go through the required legal process to seek other bids for the project. Castillo eventually overbilled the city by $12,000, prosecutors say.

According to investigators, from August 2016 through November 2018 Medina, Martinez, Montgomery and city Planning Director David Mango tried to sell three redevelopment properties for less than half of fair market value to be turned into a 24/7 charitable bingo hall. While the properties were zoned for affordable housing, the potential buyers promised to share revenues generated from the bingo hall.

No favor was too big or too small for Medina, prosecutors say — he even tore up parking tickets for friends.

From September 2016 through June 2018, the city hired contractor Felipe Velarde to complete construction projects that included work at Mango’s home prosecutors say. And in a bungled project, prosecutors say the city installed up to 10 speed bumps that did not meet any industry standards for $28,000. That project — which also did not go out for other bids — turned into another project to remove the bumps, a $19,000 expenditure Medina and another city employee tried to hide.

Over nearly two years, Velarde billed the city $1.5 million for general maintenance work — with some of the work done on private properties at Maywood taxpayers’ expense, prosecutors say.

Medina faces 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, misappropriate of public fund and perjury under oath and one count of failure to report behest payments.

His son Ramon Medina Jr. faces charges of a totally different feather: Prosecutors say he kept more than 40 roosters and equipment used to train the birds for cockfighting.

Martinez, Mango, Velarde and Castillo also faces charges. Montgomery died during the course of the investigation.

“No one is above the law,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “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.”

Prosecutors say the case remains under investigation.

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