The longtime, top executive of the country’s biggest public pension fund pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge to commit corruption and fraud Friday after admitting in court documents that he took $250,000 in bribes from a friend and co-defendant in an influence-peddling case that rocked the investment world.
At a hearing in San Francisco federal court, Federico Buenrostro Jr., the former chief executive of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, consented to the government’s filing of a new complaint that described his receipt of cash bribes from Alfred J.R. Villalobos, a former pension fund board member and former deputy mayor of Los Angeles.
Buenrostro, 64, as part of the plea agreement, promised to fully cooperate with federal prosecutors and investigators in the case against Villalobos, a longtime friend and eventual business associate.
Buenrostro faces a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of at least $250,000.
Villalobos, 70, of Incline Village, Nev., was a middleman who helped Wall Street investment firms secure billion-dollar deals with the $300-billion pension fund, known as CalPERS. He received $50 million in fees for his work as a so-called placement agent. He has denied wrongdoing.
Central to the federal investigation and related state and Security and Exchange Commission investigations has been the role of placement agents. During their heyday in the last decade, placement agents were hired by private equity firms and other financial institutions to win business from CalPERS and other large state pension funds.
According to the original 2013 indictment, Villalobos and Buenrostro were involved in a series of transactions in 2007 and 2008 when Buenrostro was the boss at CalPERS.
The two men conspired to commit fraud by creating phony documents related to a deal Villalobos was involved with on behalf of Apollo Global Management, a New York private equity fund manager, the indictment said. It said the disclosure documents were needed to comply with an Apollo requirement that CalPERS provide proof that top officials knew Villalobos was being paid large commissions to secure a $3-billion investment for Apollo.
Buenrostro retired from CalPERS and went to work for Villalobos shortly after the documents were allegedly falsified, the indictment said.
Apollo has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has stated publicly that it cooperated with prosecutors.
CalPERS in a statement said it condemns "the misconduct and ethical breaches admitted today by Mr. Buenrostro. Such violations of "the sacred trust of our members, employers and the public can't be tolerated."