Chairman of Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians arrested in bribery case

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Robert Salgado, the long-serving, colorful and often controversial leader of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, was arrested by FBI agents Friday on charges that he accepted more than $250,000 in bribes from vendors and hid his income from the Internal Revenue Service.

Salgado, 67, surrendered to authorities after being told that he had been charged in a 36-count indictment by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

“The indictment alleges a long-running scheme in which Mr. Salgado lined his pockets with money from companies hoping to do business with the tribe,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.


According to the indictment, Salgado took bribes from four vendors. One ran a valet parking service, two had construction projects at the casino and another was involved in real estate purchases for the tribe. The documents allege that he told the vendors that if they wanted to keep their contracts or get new ones with the tribe, they needed to pay him first -- and that sometimes he made them pay his credit cards and personal expenses as well. Vendors were told to make checks payable to R.J. Woods Service, prosecutors said.

One vendor, Abbas Shilleh, 46, of Diamond Bar is named in two bribery counts and is set to turn himself in on Monday, authorities said.

Neither Salgado nor Soboba tribal administrators responded immediately to requests for comment.

Robert Davis, a lawyer for Salgado, issued a one-line statement saying, “These are allegations” and that Salgado would clear them up.

A former weightlifter and star college football player, the blunt-talking Salgado has led the Soboba tribe for nearly three decades.

Last year, he confronted the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department after deputies fatally shot three tribal members in a wild gunfight on the reservation near San Jacinto. Salgado compared one officer to George Armstrong Custer and said the deputies preferred to shoot first and ask questions later. He ordered tribal police not to let deputies onto the reservation unless the deputies told them why they were there.


A series of negotiations ensued between the Sheriff’s Department, the tribe, county officials and representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice. Tensions eventually eased, but the families of the three tribal members killed have filed lawsuits against Riverside County.

The indictment in Salgado’s case contains 29 counts of bribery, one count of conspiracy and six counts of filing false tax returns from 2001 through 2006.

If convicted, Salgado could face 10 years in prison on each bribery charge, five years for the conspiracy charge and three years for each tax charge.