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Saturday, June 23, 2012 - Page updated at 08:00 p.m.

Calif. mayor, 2 others accused of pot shop bribes

By GREG RISLING
Associated Press

If someone wanted to do business in the small Southern California city of Cudahy, federal prosecutors say one-time city manager Angel Perales had some advice.

"Money makes the monkey dance," Perales told an FBI informant, according to court documents.

Perales, Mayor David Silva and Councilman Osvaldo Conde were arrested Friday and charged with soliciting and accepting cash bribes totaling $17,000 to support the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary. If convicted of a bribery charge, they each face up to 10 years in prison.

The three officials were in court Friday afternoon for bail hearings. Silva and Perales were released on $50,000 appearance bonds. Conde was released on $100,000 bond.

It wasn't immediately known if they had retained attorneys.

Court documents laid out the scheme to approve a pot shop in exchange for cash and also portrayed the suburb of 25,000 as a virtual den of iniquities where drug use, voter fraud and illicit sex permeated City Hall.

The arrests are the latest in a series of corruption scandals plaguing small cities south of Los Angeles. Most notable were the 2010 arrests of the former city manager and several other officials from neighboring Bell, who are accused of misappropriating funds to overpay themselves.

Federal prosecutors said in an affidavit that after weeks of soliciting bribes, Conde, Perales and Silva accepted $15,000 in February from an FBI informant who formerly owned a medical marijuana shop in a nearby city.

Conde later met with the informant and received $2,000, court documents show. The informant estimated the dispensary could generate up to $2.5 million within a year.

"The allegations in this case describe a corrosive and freewheeling attitude among certain officials in the city of Cudahy," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "The stain left by public corruption is indelible, extending beyond any individual case because of the general erosion of public confidence in government."

Recorded conversations show that Perales, who ran the city's code enforcement division, helped arrange the deal and knew plenty of the city's dirty secrets.

Among them was the firing of former City Manager George Perez in March 2011. The council said Perez was let go "for cause," but Perales, 43, told the informant the ex-official was doing drugs on the job.

Perez could not immediately be located for comment.

Perales also said Conde, 50, was the most powerful man in Cudahy. Conde seemed to confirm that to the informant as well.

"In other words, I'm leading and bring all these ideas," said Conde, according to the affidavit.

One of the ideas was to be a business partner with Perales to build a massage parlor where sex would be provided to patrons, the affidavit said. Perales tells the informant the new venture could generate $10,000 to $15,000 every month.

In two meetings with the informant, Conde showed up with a pair of armed bodyguards, who turned out to be employees of the 1.2-square-mile city. Conde also had a revolver with him at one of the meetings, according to court documents.

Perales also suggested he helped get Conde elected five years ago. He tells the informant during a recorded conversation he persuaded 60 to 70 people to vote for Conde.

Conde finished with 472 votes and won by a margin of 33 votes, court documents show.

Thom Mrozek, a U.S attorney's spokesman, said the investigation is ongoing and he couldn't say whether additional charges would be filed.

Perales suggested the shakedown of the prospective pot clinic owner wasn't the first time Conde and Silva looked to receive bribes.

"These guys are not your typical, uh, council people," Perales tells the informant, according to the affidavit. "They've dealt with, uh, you know, people that throw money down."

All three men are scheduled to return to court July 19 for arraignment.

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