Ex-Maywood mayor, 10 others charged in bribery, corruption scandal
Los Angeles County prosecutors announced bribery and corruption charges Thursday against Maywood’s former mayor and a slew of ex-city officials and vendors after a years-long probe into allegations that city leaders engaged in pay-to-play practices, misused public funds and twisted the tiny city’s purse strings for their own benefit.
Former Mayor Ramon Medina was charged with multiple counts of solicitation of a bribe, conspiracy, embezzlement and theft, according to a 34-count criminal complaint made public Thursday. Prosecutors allege Medina took donations during his 2015 City Council campaign from contributors whom he promised to later reward with city work. Many of those contributors are now listed among his co-defendants.
The corruption scandal also ensnared ex-City Manager Reuben Martinez and former city planning director David Mango, who are charged with multiple counts of theft, misuse of funds, embezzlement and conspiracy after they allegedly sought to sell properties earmarked for affordable housing to a buyer who wanted to erect a bingo hall, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors also accused Medina and others of using city funds to pay contractor Felipe Velarde to conduct unapproved construction work at the homes and properties of the ex-mayor’s friends and constituents. In one instance, city funds were used to pay Velarde for construction work performed at Mango’s Los Angeles home, according to the complaint.
From September 2016 to June 2018, Martinez and Mango allegedly approved billing statements for Velarde’s company in excess of $1.5 million, according to the complaint.
“No one is above the law. Public officials should be working to benefit the people, not their own bank accounts,” Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a statement. “Pay-to-play politics have no place in Los Angeles County and we are all deserving of a clean government.”
Pedro Carrillo, who served as city manager for Maywood between December 2015 and April 2016 and was described in court documents as having pushed back against some of Medina’s alleged malfeasance, said the charges were welcomed but wondered why it took so long for law enforcement to intercede.
“I think myself and a lot of good people of Maywood have been waiting for this day for a long time, for years,” he said. “It’s disheartening for the community when five to six years have passed and they don’t see the justice system is doing right by them.”
Emails and memos obtained by The Times in 2016 showed Carrillo had raised concerns about invoices involving the companies of two of Medina’s co-defendants — Velarde and Hector Castillo — as well as the hiring of Mango. But the complaints went unheeded and he was eventually replaced by Martinez as city manager.
Attorneys representing Medina and Mango did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Martinez said his client looked forward to “seeing that justice is done in court,” but declined to answer specific questions about the allegations. Attempts to contact all but one of the other eight defendants or their counsel were not successful.
The district attorney’s office launched its investigation in 2018, searching dozens of vehicles and seizing troves of documents from City Hall and the homes of several elected officials.
A Los Angeles County investigation into possible corruption in Maywood has set its sights on a broad swath that includes four current and former council members, 13 companies, five current and former city administrators and one activist who dresses up as a clown.
Maywood is one of Southern California’s smallest and most densely packed cities — 1.18 square miles with nearly 30,000 people squeezed into an industrial zone south of downtown Los Angeles — but it has been a hub of political scandal. The city has been plagued by recalls, voter fraud allegations, corruption scandals, circus-like council meetings and financial upheaval for decades.
Many of the small cities tucked in the shadow of the 710 Freeway — including Bell, Vernon and Cudahy — have long been plagued by municipal corruption. Some say a lack of civic engagement, low voter participation and absence of local media outlets that might otherwise keep tabs on government officials have allowed government dysfunction to flourish.
The city’s Police Department was disbanded a decade ago after a Times investigation found it had become a haven for officers forced out of other police agencies, and contracts stemming from Maywood ultimately played a critical role in the Bell corruption scandal that saw several city officials there jailed in the 2010s after they were convicted of misappropriating millions of dollars and paying themselves exorbitant salaries.
Maywood’s tendency to outsource city services also played a key role in the charges filed Thursday. Prosecutors allege that, during his 2015 bid to win a City Council seat, Medina repeatedly took campaign donations from contributors on the promise they would be reimbursed with city work.
According to the complaint, those donors included future City Atty. Michael Montgomery, who has since died, and co-defendant Castillo, who heads the engineering firm ECM Group. Less than a year after Castillo donated $10,000 to Medina’s campaign, prosecutors allege, he was awarded a $56,000 contract with the city. Months later, prosecutors allege, Medina authorized Montgomery to use city funds to reimburse Castillo’s campaign contribution.
Medina, Martinez, Mango and a fourth man, George Del Junco, were also allegedly involved in a 2017 plot to sell three properties in the 5100 block of District Boulevard that had been earmarked for affordable housing. Instead, the plot was to be the site of a “24/7 charitable bingo hall,” according to the complaint. Del Junco, described by prosecutors as a “bingo hall promoter,” is charged with conspiracy and bribing an executive officer.
Prosecutors allege the men planned to sell the property for a price far below its market value in exchange for a cut of the profits from the bingo hall.
Some city officials had previously warned against the hiring of Martinez, the former city manager. Shortly after a state audit found Maywood was roughly $16 million in debt, Martinez was named city manager despite having no experience working in municipal government. A former project manager at Boeing Co., Martinez was a frequent customer of Medina’s auto body shop before being named to the high-level position.
Maywood was $16 million in debt and under the magnifying glass of the state auditor, who found the small southeast L.A.
Medina lost his spot on the City Council in last November’s election, finishing last in a five-person field.
Other defendants charged Thursday included political consultant Mario Beltran, who is accused of one count of filing a fraudulent recall petition. Beltran, a former Bell Gardens city councilman, has previously pleaded guilty to filing a false police report and to violations of the California political reform act.
Also facing charges are: Paul Garcia, a colleague of Del Junco who was charged with three counts of bribery; George Tello Ramirez, a DJ charged with one count of soliciting a bribe; Felipe Aguirre, a political consultant charged with two counts of failing to file proper campaign statements; and Medina’s son, Ramon Medina Jr., who was charged with possession of illegal gamecocks after investigators recovered 41 fighting fowls at the family auto body shop when serving search warrants there years ago.
Aguirre declined to comment, and the others could not be reached.
Maywood City Councilman Eddie De La Riva, who has long spoken out against questionable practices by other city officials and opposed Martinez’s hiring, said the charges were a victory for a community long abused by its leaders.
“You don’t know how relieved I am. They put me through hell on that council — constantly under attack by their supporters, they tried to recall me seven times, but it was all worth it,” he said. “It’s a victory for good government. It’s a good day for Maywood and the entire southeast.”
Times staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.
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