Ex-Maywood mayor, 10 others charged in corruption scandal

Los Angeles County prosecutors announced bribery and corruption charges Thursday against the former mayor of Maywood and 10 others, the latest step in a years-long probe into allegations that city officials accepted campaign donations in exchange for city contracts, misused public funds and abused their power.

Former Mayor Ramon Medina was charged with multiple counts of solicitation of a bribe, conspiracy, embezzlement and theft in connection with a wide array of corruption allegations, according to a 34-count criminal complaint made public Thursday.

Ex-City Manager Ruben Martinez and former city planning director David Mango were also charged with multiple counts of theft, misuse of funds, embezzlement and conspiracy after they allegedly sought to sell properties earmarked for affordable housing to a buyer who wanted to erect a 24/7 bingo hall, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint also accused Medina and others of using city funds to pay contractor Felipe Velarde to conduct unapproved construction work at the homes and properties of the ex-mayor’s friends and constituents. In one instance, Medina allegedly disbursed $28,000 to Velarde’s company to build 10 speed bumps on roads of his choice, according to the complaint. From September 2016 to June 2018, Martinez and Mango allegedly approved billing statements for Velarde’s company in excess of $1.5 million, according to the complaint.

Medina was also accused of voiding parking tickets for friends and raising dozens of birds for cockfighting with his son, prosecutors said.

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

It was not immediately clear if the defendants had retained counsel. Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said all 11 defendants were expected to surrender on Thursday and a court hearing was scheduled to take place in downtown L.A.

An e-mail to Maywood Mayor Ricardo Lara seeking comment Thursday morning was not immediately returned.

The district attorney’s office launched its investigation in 2018, searching dozens of vehicles and seizing troves of documents, computers and bank statements from the homes of several elected officials.

Maywood is one of Southern California’s smallest and most densely packed cities — 1.18 square miles with nearly 30,000 people squeezed into an industrial zone south of downtown Los Angeles — but it has been a hub of political scandal. The city has been plagued by recalls, voter fraud allegations, water problems, corruption scandals, political infighting, circus-like council meetings and financial upheaval since the 1970s.

The city’s police department collapsed under a corruption scandal years ago — the city is now patrolled by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department — and contracts stemming from Maywood ultimately played a critical role in the Bell corruption scandal, which saw several city officials there jailed in the 2010s after they were convicted of misappropriating millions of dollars and paying themselves exorbitant salaries.

Other defendants charged Thursday included political consultant Mario Beltran, who is accused of one count of filing a fraudulent recall petition. Beltran, a former Bell Gardens city councilman, has pleaded guilty to filing improper campaign disclosure forms in the past and had been accused of staging political fundraisers that were actually meant to raise funds for his defense in a criminal case in 2006.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Times staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.

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