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UPDATED: Santa Fe Springs Councilman Serrano Charged In Federal Bribery Case For Taking Thousands Of Dollars From Marijuana Store Operator

By Brian Hews


The plea agreement can be found at the end of this article.

Veteran Santa Fe Springs City Councilman Joseph Serrano has agreed to plead guilty in connection to a major federal bribery case that involves the accepting thousands of dollars in cash bribes from the operator of a marijuana dispensary doing business in the tiny industrial community.
Serrano was named Thursday in a federal bribery case that alleges he took thousands of dollars in cash bribes from the operator of a marijuana store who wanted to influence the city to allow his store to stay open.


Serrano, 62, who from the end of 2010 through October 2011 served as the mayor of Santa Fe Springs, has agreed to plead guilty to a felony bribery count in a plea agreement that was also filed this morning in United States District Court.
“A public official is entrusted with the well-being of the community he or she serves, no matter how large or small,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Here, Mr. Serrano chose to use his public office to shamelessly line his own pockets rather than use his elected position for the public good. The Department of Justice will continue to act as a watchdog for the public to protect them from self-serving officials like Mr. Serrano.”
Santa Fe Springs City Manager Thaddeus McCormack told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper in an interview that the “city is just starting to deal with the situation.”
“We have no comment on the matter until we get more information and details from Councilman Serrano and the US Attorney’s Office,” Mc Cormack said.
Mc Cormack said that the city officials will be releasing an official comment later in the day.

In the statement from the US Attorney’s Office, the facts in the plea agreement, Serrano admits that he asked the operator of the marijuana store to pay money in exchange for “information about the
City’s plans to regulate marijuana dispensaries and Serrano promised that he “would do what he could with regard to the City Council’s consideration of the marijuana dispensary issue to help the dispensary operator’s dispensary stay in business. On several occasions, defendant [Serrano] did in fact provide the dispensary operator with inside information regarding the City’s regulation of marijuana dispensaries.”
Soon after he became mayor, Serrano had a meeting with the marijuana store operator, told him that he controlled one other member of the City Council, and asked for $1,500, ostensibly to pay medical expenses for a sick relative. The marijuana store operator subsequently gave Serrano a $1,500 check and prepared paperwork to make it appear the money was a loan.

After this first payment, the marijuana store operator became an FBI informant and began recording a number of conversations with Serrano. During a meeting in late 2010, the informant gave Serrano $1,500 in cash and Serrano told the marijuana store operator: “I think you’re gonna be fine. I think you’re gonna hang in there” and that Serrano and another City Council member were “behind your cause” and “have your back” with regard to the City’s regulation of dispensaries, according to the plea agreement. Serrano also told the informant: “And I have to say, I can’t say to you directly. . . . Because if I say it directly then that’s you, know, . . . that’s bribe
money, . . . . Um, we, you have, we have your back.”

During subsequent meetings in 2011, the informant made several payments to Serrano of between $1,700 and $3,000, according to the statement of facts. During a March 2011 meeting, Serrano asked the informant if he could receive monthly cash payments of at least $1,600, which Serrano stated was the amount of his mortgage payment. “I don’t want to say being put on the payroll, but on a monthly basis getting something from you,” Serrano allegedly asked.

Serrano admits in the plea agreement that he took $10,000 in cash that had been provided by the FBI to the informant, and that the total amount of bribes was $11,500.

The FBI’s Acting Assistant Director In Charge in Los Angeles, Timothy Delaney, said, “Mr. Serrano was hired to be accountable and to set a good example in Santa Fe Springs, but instead he is charged with flouting the democratic process by allowing cash to influence his decisions, instead of the best interest of city residents.”

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.

The charge of bribery carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The plea agreement contemplates a sentence of approximately three years in federal prison. The actual sentence to be imposed in this case will be determined by a United States District Judge.

Serrano has agreed to appear for an arraignment in United States District Court on July 12. The case against Serrano was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

UPDATE: 4:02 p.m. Attorney Dominic Cantalupo who represents Serrano told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper in an interview that he nor Serrano will be making a public statement. “We have no comment at this moment,” Cantalupo said. The plea agreement between Serrano and the US Attorney’s Office took place on Wendnesday.

Serrano could be facing a maximum of 10 years in Federal prison, as well as three years of supervised formal probation, and a fine up to $250,000.00, LCCN has learned.



  • Betty Elizalde says:

    “Greed is mens worst enemy”… My question is how many of his friends were involved in making the decision to vote for the marijuana store?
    Santa Fe Springs now has a big problem with this happening and how many have already been done without us knowing? People wake up to this Cities elected officials. Or is this the start of another cities woes not too long ago. Mr.Serrano I am very disappointed in you, and disgusted that you would even consider making this type of happening in our City.We are hard working people and you never thought about this? May God help you as you have lost alot of your backers!

  • Anon says:

    First of all, Betty, why don’t you think about the reason he participated in these exchanges? If you were in dire need of money for your family’s well being wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get that money? Please think about what you post before you comment any further. Have some consideration for his family, you don’t know how much harder it is for them. If you were one of his “backers” you would still have his back no matter what. His real “backers” (which is even a word by the way) will still be there. So please, discontinue your ignorant remarks.

  • Chewy says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Did this criminal get standing ovation from audience last night .did the people of SFS get the memo that this guy disgraced their city .

  • Tom C says:

    A crime is a crime, and I am ashamed for my city. I am also ashamed of Anonymous commenters who prove their ignorance. Did he have consideration for his family when he was breaking the law? I voted for and supported him, but not so that he could solicit bribes and abuse his office for personal gain.

  • Luis S. Garcia says:

    What is there to be ashamed of? An elected official admits wrongdoing, accepts full responsibility, tenders resignation, the City of Santa Fe Springs is bigger than one person. Joseph Serrano, Sr made a mistake and the City of Santa Fe Springs will continue to move forward. Again forgiveness is at hand beyond the anger. I sure know over the past 40 years the City of Santa Fe Springs has had their experiences with councilmembers who’ve come and gone and left a legacy that the community had to live for good or bad.

  • Rodolfo Cardona says:

    Mr. Serrano is extremely remorseful just about now because he got caught with his hands in the cookie jar, otherwise he would be riding his Porsche all over town collection easy money in exchange for his vote. According Luis S. Garcia, who is believed to be Mr. Serrano´s nephew, seems to think that Joe Serrano, Mr. Joe Rizzo and all the council members of our neighboring city (Cudahy) should be forgiven for their criminal activities, the shame they brought to their families and cities, violation of fiduciary duties and greed. Serrano, Rizzo nor anyone in their position should be forgiven, let them serve their time and suffer the consequences of their greedy actions. Mr. Serrano was facing 30-40 years, I say he got off like a bandit. According to his plea agreement, Mr Serrano will serve approximately 3 years in a Federal Prison (Club Fed).

    • Luis says:

      Mr. Cardona,

      Its obvious you cannot get past your ignorance. So what if I am Joseph’s nephew? Sounds like there is something personal from your end … at least get the facts straight

  • Lyn says:

    I forgive him but I will never forget how his selfish actions led to this crime. I attend church with you Joe and your family, I see you pray and encourage others thru your acts of kindness and concern. What you did was not one act of ignorance it was done over and over and over again, each time you picked up the cash, you had to know it was wrong. My only question is , where was your faith in God that he would get you thru your financial issues, he woul dhave helped you just like how he will now help you get thru this. Virgina, may God keep you safe and at peace.

  • Scott Kostecki says:

    I am 43 years old and a resident raised in the city of Santa Fe Springs. I have known Joe over the years and have seen his firsthand unselfishness of his time and hours of volunteer work. FIrst of all, to all on their high horses who did he hurt? Sure, he took a bribe, but did that money come from citizens, NO! There was valuable tax dollars that were collected there on behalf of the city of Santa Fe Springs that paid forf many city and social services. Secondly, the people of the state of California voted to allow the legalization of medical dispensaries and the constitution of the United states, what kind of American are you that doesn’t believe in the consititution? To Betty Elizalde: What problem are you referring to? The Feds walked all over the people of California and the dispensaries are all closed. I only hope that you never have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy and suffer the pain and nausea that cancer patients will now have to endure without legalized cannabis. To Rodolfo Cardenas: Don’t you dare compare Cudahy to SFS, the people of Cudahy. Joe received $16,000 a year for his position. All one needs to do is look at the beautiful schools, parks, and community services to know our city was taken care of. To the 3 who would only post their first names on this post, you are not members of this community and we will take care of our own. Joe is a good man and HE WILL BE GIVEN A 2ND CHANCE. Lyn, trust me, you are in no position to judge.