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SoCal politician charged with seeking $2.36 million bribe

Nov. 5, 2013 at 3:51 PM

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors said Tuesday they charged an ex-California city councilman with soliciting the largest bribe ever pocketed by an elected official.

Former Moreno Valley City Councilman Marcelo Co was charged and agreed to plead guilty in Los Angeles federal court Tuesday to single counts of bribery and filing a false tax return for allegedly soliciting a $2.36 million payoff from an undercover FBI agent posing as a real estate broker.

Co, 64, will enter the plea at a court hearing next month. He faces 13 years in federal prison.

The U.S. attorney's office said in a written statement Co last year told the undercover agent he held enough sway on the council to change the zoning on a 30-acre parcel of land, which he owned, and dramatically increased its value. He urged the agent to buy the land for $5.36 million with $2.36 million in cash going to Co. Co said the sale price for the property, which was appraised at $710,000 under the current zoning, would then be recorded at $3 million.

"Mr. Co regularly traded votes, land and confidential information in exchange for cash to fund his personal bank account, rather than what was in the best interest of the residents of Moreno Valley," said Bill Lewis, the assistant agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.

Co, who was elected to the council in 2010, was accused of previously seeking payments of $5,000-$10,000 for what he said were campaign contributions for other council members whom he claimed would make up a bloc that would routinely approve land-use and development matters that would benefit the undercover agent and a businessman who was cooperating with the FBI.

Co resigned his seat in August after being charged in a California court with welfare fraud.

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