Former South El Monte mayor sentenced to prison in bribery scheme

The former mayor of South El Monte will spend one year and one day in federal prison for taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from a city contractor, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Luis Aguinaga, 49, will also serve one year of home detention, perform 3,000 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine as part of a sentence handed down by a U.S. District judge.

Aguinaga pleaded guilty in September to the bribery charges, admitting that as early as 2005 he accepted cash bribes from a city contractor — from $500 to $1,000 at a time — in exchange for preference on city engineering and construction contracts, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

According to court documents, the payments were left in a City Hall bathroom or in the passenger pocket of a car by the contractor, identified only as a "confidential witness," about every two to three weeks, around the time when the contractor was paid by the city of South El Monte.

If the envelopes were late, Aguinaga would call and ask about for his payment, federal prosecutors said.

Aguinaga said he received at least $45,000 from the contractor in the final two years of the long-running corruption scheme before he was arrested by the FBI in 2012.

The former mayor “abandoned the community he was elected to serve by basing his decisions on greed and ill-gotten financial gain rather than good government,” Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, said in statement.

In a September 2012 meeting monitored by the FBI, Aguinaga accepted a $1,000 bribe at the South El Monte Ramada Inn, despite saying he was nervous because city officials in nearby Cudahy had been charged in a similar bribery scheme earlier that year, court documents said.

After admitting to the scheme, Aguinaga stepped down as South El Monte Mayor in August 2016 after more than a decade of public service.

“It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to have represented equally, residents and businesses in the community,” Aguinaga wrote in an August resignation letter to San Gabriel Valley administrators.

jeff.landa@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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