According to court filings, at this meeting the undercover agent asked whether the payment of $35,000 would “get us in front of the line” of applicants. Soto answered, “Hell yeah.” Romero added that he “didn’t want to say it in front of everybody, but it will.”
On Jan. 9, 2020, Romero and Soto attended a second meeting with the undercover agent at a restaurant in El Centro, California. During the meeting, according to court records, Romero reminded the undercover agent how difficult it was to work with the city of Calexico, and how fortunate it was that the agent was working with Romero. Soto later added that in return for the bribe, Romero would cut through “so much [expletive] [red] tape that exists” with the city.
During a discussion of the approval process for the permit application referenced in court records, Romero explained that the people who have to approve the undercover agent’s license were “my best friends at the entire City Hall.” When asked if the “best friends” had already signed off on the plan, Romero responded “[expletive], yeah!” and laughed.
Court filings reveal that at the conclusion of the Jan. 9, 2020 meeting, in the parking lot outside the restaurant, with Romero looking on, the undercover agent handed Soto $17,500 in cash and explained that he divided the first installment of the bribe into two envelopes: one with $8,800 and another with $8,700. The agent asked whether “we’re good,” and Romero responded, “Trust me” and added, “In my line of business, I can’t [expletive] up. Which means he [Soto] can’t [expletive] up.”
According to the charging documents, the defendants allegedly accepted the second installment, $17,500 in cash, during a third meeting on January 30 in a parking lot outside a restaurant in El Centro. Court documents further allege both men also admitted to creating a shell corporation to launder the proceeds of their bribery scheme.
The charging document also alleges that both men lied to the FBI when interviewed by agents at the conclusion of the January 30 meeting. According to court filings, Romero falsely denied being part of any agreement with the undercover agent, and denied that anyone had made any “guarantees” to the agent. Similarly, Soto falsely denied making any “guarantees” to the undercover agent and denied receiving any prior payments from the agent.
The FBI investigated the case. Trial Attorney Joshua Rothstein of the Criminal Division’sPost too long. Click here to view the full text.