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Los Angeles County’s district attorney unveiled a 34-count complaint Thursday, Feb. 4, charging a former Maywood mayor and 10 others for “widespread corruption” over a three-year period that involved bribes for city contracts, embezzlement and an attempt to heavily discount city property to secure a bingo hall.

Former Mayor Ramon Medina, 61, faces multiple counts of soliciting bribes, conspiracy, embezzlement, grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and perjury. Medina and the others are set to be arraigned April 29.

“No one is above the law. Public officials should be working to benefit the people, not their own bank accounts,” District Attorney 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.”

2018 raids followed audit

Investigators raided Maywood City Hall, the homes and businesses of Medina, and other locations in 2018. The searches came just four months after a state audit called out the city’s poor practices and more than $15 million in debt. Other elected officials in Maywood were searched at the same time, but have not been charged.

A search at Medina’s auto repair shop found more than 40 roosters and evidence of cock fighting. His son, Ramon Medina Jr., is charged with conspiracy to possess gamecocks for fighting purposes.

Medina is alleged to have sought and received bribes from individuals and companies seeking to do business in Maywood, one of L.A. County’s smallest and most densely populated cities. The city relies on outside companies for much of its services instead of employing its own staff.

Bingo hall instead of housing

Medina, former City Manager Reuben Martinez and Planning Director David Mango allegedly attempted to sell three city-owned properties meant for affordable housing for less than half the fair market value to entice a buyer who would build a bingo hall instead.

Martinez, 57, and Mango, 58, face multiple counts of conspiracy, grand theft, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds. Martinez, a former projects manager at Boeing with no experience running a city, reportedly was a customer at Medina’s shop before his hiring in 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The three men allegedly offered potential buyers favorable financing and a share of the revenues in exchange for backing the project. Medina is accused of asking for a bribe from one prospective buyer to help fund a recall campaign against a Maywood councilman.

The prospective buyer, Paul Garcia, is charged with three counts of bribing an executive officer. His associate, George Del Junco, the bingo hall’s promoter, faces two counts of conspiracy and one count of bribing an executive officer. Mario Beltran, a political consultant, is charged with filing a false or fraudulent recall petition, and Felipe Aguirre, a proponent of the recall, faces misdemeanor charges for failing to file campaign statements.

City money used for private projects

In another instance, Medina, Martinez and Mango are accused of authorizing Felipe Velarde, the owner of V&M Iron Works, to complete construction projects for Medina’s friends and supporters on the city’s dime. This allegedly included building handicap ramps and driveways on private property, installing speed bumps that did not meet industry standards and carrying out repair work at Mango’s home in Studio City. Maywood paid Velarde $1.53 million during that time, sometimes doubling and tripling payments to him from previous periods.

Some of the speed bumps installed by V&M were cracked and broken six months later, Councilman Eddie De La Riva told KCET in 2018.

V&M billed Maywood $82,000 annually from 2013 to 2016. The billing jumped to $917,000 in 2017, according to KCET.

A 2016 state auditor’s report found V&M had leased property from Maywood but wasn’t charged a single late fee despite making only one payment on time in more than three years, KCET reported. The company also was found to not have appropriate insurance coverage.

Velarde, the company’s owner, faces charges of conspiracy, grand theft, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.

Audit fraud?

One of the other individuals swept up in the scandal is Hector Castillo, the president of ECM Group Inc., a company accused of fraud during a forensic audit in South El Monte in 2016. The audit alleged ECM Group billed the city for more than 24 hours worked in a day by a single employee. Former South El Monte Mayor Luis Aguinaga pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge shortly before the audit was released.

In Maywood, Castillo is charged with conspiracy, bribery, grand theft and embezzlement. The District Attorney’s Office did not disclose details about his alleged crimes.

The 10th person charged in the probe is George Tello Ramirez, a disc jockey. He is accused of soliciting a bribe.