By Ashley Orona
MAYWOOD — A former city councilman and 10 others were charged with bribery and corruption after a three-year-old investigation into allegations that city leaders used public funds and their elected power for personal gain, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Feb. 4.
Ramon Medina, who served on the council from November 2015 until last year, is charged with six counts of soliciting a bribe, three counts each of conspiracy to commit a crime, embezzlement and failing to file campaign statements, two counts each of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and perjury under oath and one count of failure to report payments, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Also charged were former City Manager Reuben Martinez, ex-City Planning Director David Mango, Medina’s son Ramon Medina Jr., a political consultant, business associates and contractors.
Maywood is the third-smallest incorporated city and one of the most densely populated in Los Angeles County. The city is part of the gateway cities in Southeast Los Angeles that experience a number of problems including environmental injustices and numerous corruption scandals.
Adjacent city of Bell is notorious for the corruption scandal of 2010 and neighboring city of South Gate had its own corruption scandal in 2010. The latest corruption probe is an example of the ongoing battle residents have to endure with politicians that ignore the needs of their communities and see public office as a means of personal gain.
“This is a huge victory for Southeast L.A. and Maywood in particular,” said Cudahy Vice Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar on Twitter. “Our communities deserve better than to be plagued by elected and appointed officials that are working to stuff their wallets instead of working for our people.”
The District Attorney’s Office launched the investigation in 2018, searching nearly two dozen vehicles, City Hall, and the homes of council members and a city contractor’s office, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Medina, Martinez and Mango are accused of trying to sell three redevelopment properties that were meant to be used for affordable housing to a buyer who would build a charitable bingo hall. The three defendants allegedly promised potential buyers favorable financing terms and agreed to share a portion of the revenues generated by the bingo hall.
Between September 2016 and June 2018, the three men also are accused of authorizing contractor Felipe Velarde to complete construction projects for Medina’s friends and supporters using public funds. The work allegedly included building handicap ramps and driveways on private properties, installing speed bumps on streets that did not meet industry standards and repair work at Mango’s home in Studio City.
Medina also allegedly directed city employees to void or dismiss parking tickets that had been issued to his friends and supporters.
The city’s current Mayor Ricardo Lara issued a statement thanking the District Attorney’s Office for the investigation and clarified that none of the people named in the complaints are currently employed nor contracted by the city of Maywood.
“This latest corruption probe should not and will not define who we are as a community,” Lara said in the statement. “In the last two years, we have worked diligently and consistently to bring professionalism and transparency back to City Hall.
Maywood has had a series of corruption problems for more than a decade. It played a critical role in the corruption investigation in the city of Bell that found several city officials guilty of misappropriating millions of dollars paying themselves some of the highest salaries in the state.
A 16-month investigation also found gross misconduct and widespread abuse by officers in the Maywood Police Department, which has since been disbanded.
Lara claims that the city has taken measures to prevent such corruption from happening again, including providing ethics training for elected officials and planning commissioners, ensuring that agenda reports are posted on the city website and providing transparency with regards to the city’s finances with easy-to- follow reports.
“I am proud of the work we have already begun,” said Councilman Eddie De La Riva, who was in office during the time the alleged corruption took place. “We have turned a new chapter in Maywood and it’s one I’m excited to lead with my colleagues.”
Medina and the others arrested are scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court April 29.
In addition to Medina, his son, Martinez and Mango, also charged were:
• Felipe Velarde, 60, charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts each of grand theft, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.
• Bingo hall promoter George Del Junco, 51, who is charged with two counts of conspiracy and one count of bribing an executive officer.
• Del Junco’s business associate, Paul Garcia, 57, who is charged with three counts of bribing an executive officer.
• Hector Castillo, 72, who runs an engineering firm and is charged with one count each of conspiracy, bribing an executive officer and grand theft and two counts of embezzlement.
• Disc jockey George Tello Ramirez, 57, who is charged with one count of soliciting a bribe.
• Recall proponent Felipe Aguirre, 68, who is charged with two misdemeanor counts of failing to file campaign statements.
• And political consultant Mario Beltran, 43, a former Bell Gardens city councilman who is charged with one count of filing false or fraudulent recall petitions.
City News Service also contributed to this story.
Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.