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Ex-Calif mayor sentenced in pot shop bribery case

Posted: November 5, 2012 8:00 p.m.
Updated: November 5, 2012 8:00 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former California mayor was sentenced to two years in prison Monday for taking thousands of dollars in bribes from a marijuana dispensary owner seeking permission to stay open.

Joseph Serrano, 62, one-time mayor of suburban Santa Fe Springs, could have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted at trial.

Instead, he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in July.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson also ordered Serrano to pay $10,000 in restitution to the FBI, which tapped the pot shop owner as an informant in the case.

Santa Fe Springs is a small industrial town about 20 miles south of Los Angeles.

Federal prosecutors said Serrano told the pot shop operator two years ago that he had influence over another council member and he would try to keep the business open.

Serrano asked for $1,500 that he said would be used to pay medical expenses for a sick relative, authorities said.

The marijuana store operator gave Serrano a check and allegedly prepared paperwork to make it appear the money was a loan.

After the first payment, the pot shop operator became an FBI informant and began recording a number of conversations with Serrano. The informant made several payments, ranging as high as $3,000, according to court documents.

Serrano at one point asked the informant if he could receive monthly cash payments of at least $1,600, which he said was the amount of his mortgage payment, according to authorities.

Serrano, who stepped down from a council seat in June, acknowledged in the plea that he took $10,000 provided by the FBI to the informant.

"This was pure greed," Judge Wilson said during sentencing. "The defendant sold himself out."

A similar scam was uncovered by federal authorities in Cudahy, another small industrial city south of Los Angeles.

Three former city officials, including the mayor, have pleaded guilty to accepting bribes for their support of opening a medical marijuana dispensary. All three are awaiting sentencing.



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