Ex-San Bernardino County Planning Commissioner to Plead Guilty in Marijuana Corruption Scandal

A former San Bernardino County planning commissioner will plead guilty to funneling bribes to former Baldwin Park City Councilmember Ricardo Pacheco in exchange for the councilman’s votes and influence in the city’s cannabis permitting process.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the impending guilty plea from Gabriel Chavez Friday.

According to Chavez’s plea agreement, in June 2017, Baldwin Park began permitting the cultivation, sale and manufacturing of marijuana within its city limits. Soon afterward, Pacheco decided to solicit bribe payments from businesses seeking marijuana development agreements and related permits in the city. In exchange for the illicit payments, Pacheco agreed to use his position in city government to assist the companies with obtaining marijuana permits.

Chavez agreed to act as an intermediary to funnel those bribes to Pacheco by using his Claremont-based internet marketing company, Market Share Media Agency. In exchange for the bribes, Pacheco agreed to vote and use his influence over the city’s permitting process to secure marijuana permits for two companies, identified in court documents as “Marijuana Company 3” and “Marijuana Company 4.”

Chavez obtained bribe payments from an individual identified as “Person 14,” and disguised them as payments for consulting work. Person 14 is also a public official, who was helping a cannabis company obtain its permit.

Chavez received hundreds of thousands in bribe money and then passed 60% of it to Pacheco, according to the DOJ. In exchange, Pacheco voted in favor of two companies’ cannabis permits in December 2017 and in May 2018.

Chavez further admitted in his plea agreement that Market Share Media Agency won a no-bid, $14,500 contract from the City of Huntington Park signed by Person 14. The no-bid contract represented, in part, further compensation for Chavez in his efforts facilitating the bribe to Pacheco to secure the marijuana permit for Marijuana Company 4 in Baldwin Park. To further secure this permit, Person 14 gave Chavez a $5,000 check made payable to the church associated with the school where Pacheco’s child attended.

Pacheco pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge and resigned from the City Council last year. He is awaiting sentencing.

On Thursday, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) submitted a written request to Gen. Rob Bonta for a task force that would examine local cannabis licensing corruption. She cited a Los Angeles Times investigation on the rash of bribery schemes and favoritism involving cannabis at the local level.

“My hope is that this task force will investigate and prosecute any illegal activity tied to awarding cannabis licenses,” Garcia wrote. “I also hope that your office is able to create a road map for future cities to ensure pay-to-play schemes and any illegal activity associated with cannabis licensing ends.”