San Bernardino County charges men with bribery
San Bernardino County prosecutors charged two brothers with bribery Thursday after they allegedly slipped an envelope containing $15,000 in cash to the chief of staff for county Supervisor Josie Gonzales.
Arshak Kouladjian, 53, of Glendale and Vartan Kouladjian, 45, of Pasadena pleaded not guilty in a San Bernardino County courtroom Thursday to a single count each of felony bribery of a ministerial officer.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who is representing the brothers, said his clients were “upstanding members of the community and successful businessmen.”
“Everyone who knows them was shocked by the charges,” Geragos said. “We look forward to sitting down and talking with the district attorney about this matter.”
The brothers were arrested Wednesday and initially held in lieu of $500,000 bail each, authorities said. A judge later reduced their bail to $100,000 apiece and ordered the men to surrender their passports.
The San Bernardino County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into the Kouladjians in October after Gonzales’ office alerted prosecutors of inappropriate overtures, said San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. John Goritz.
Prosecutors said the Kouladjians arranged a meeting Jan. 3 with Gonzales’ chief of staff, Bob Page, to discuss the construction and development of an auto salvage and auction business in Bloomington.
During the meeting, Vartan Kouladjian “gave Mr. Page an envelope that contained cash in the amount of $15,000,” Goritz said.
The charges filed this week were the culmination of a four-month investigation that began when Page first reported concerns about what he believed were inappropriate overtures by Arshak Kouladjian, according to a statement released Thursday by Gonzales.
“It deeply saddens me, and angers me, that anyone would think bribery would be tolerated in San Bernardino County,” said Gonzales, supervisor of the 5th District. “It is unfortunate that in the past there have been situations involving corruption. However, that was 10 years ago.”
The decade-old public-corruption cases Gonzales referred to were covered by Page, who at the time was a newspaper reporter. Gonzales said that during Page’s journalism career at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the San Bernardino Sun, he wrote about criminal corruption cases involving former county administrators James Hlawek and Harry Mays. Page began working for the county a little more than six years ago.
Hlawek and Mays pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in 1999. Hlawek was sentenced to three years’ probation and community service starting November 2005. Mays served two years in prison.
“The Kouladjian brothers were grossly mistaken if they thought my office was for sale,” Gonzales said in her statement.
She said since June 2006, two of the Kouladjians’ companies have contributed $35,500 to her campaign coffers. She said she plans to donate that amount to community organizations in Bloomington.
Citing the criminal investigation, prosecutors declined to reveal specifics of the meeting between the Kouladjians and Page but said they monitored contacts between the parties.
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