More corruption emerges in southeast L.A. County

Huntington Park logoYet another small city in southeastern Los Angeles County has found itself the focus of a corruption investigation. Thanks to a councilman named Valentin Amezquita, a Huntington Park scandal was uncovered in which a towing firm was allegedly allowed to charge high rates under an exclusive long-term contract in return for gifts to city officials. The Los Angeles Times has some of the key details:

“What do we get out of this? What do our residents get?” he asked before voting against the higher fees. Two others joined him, defeating the measure.


The next day, Amezquita’s phone rang with a call from a lobbyist working with Jimmy Sandhu and Sukhbir Singh, the owners of H.P. Tow. She asked him to lunch.


It was just the move FBI agents had hoped the men would make. When Amezquita sat down with Singh and the lobbyist at a restaurant days later, he was wired with recording equipment that secretly captured the conversation. Federal agents hid nearby.


The August 2013 encounter was the first of several meals, phone calls and tow yard meetings with Singh and Sandhu that Amezquita recorded as an informant for the FBI and which now are at the center of a federal bribery case against the men, court records show. Since their arrest and an initial court appearance in October 2015, Singh, 39, and Sandhu, 37, have been free on bond and have not been formally indicted by a grand jury on criminal charges.

This continues the trend first launched with the Times’ 2010 discovery that Bell was being looted by its top officials. This led to investigations of neighboring cities in southeast Los Angeles County with similar characteristics — low-turnout elections, apathetic electorates, few civic watchdogs, and cliques of elected leaders and department heads working behind the scenes to enrich themselves.

Dishonor list includes Cudahy, Vernon, South Gate, Lynwood

corruptionSouthern California Public Radio looked at this phenomenon in 2014:

The indictments of state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and his brother Tom Calderon are just the latest in a string of bribery, money laundering and corruption cases to hit the area bordered by the 110 and 710 freeways to the west and east, and by the 10 and 105 freeways to the north and south. …


Cudahy: Three former city officials – Osvaldo Conde, David Silva and Angel Perales – pleaded guilty in a federal extortion and bribery case. They admitted to accepting $17,000 in bribes from an FBI informant who purportedly wanted to open a medical marijuana clinic in town. Documents in that case outlined rampant corruption in Cudahy. Conde was sentenced to three years in prison. Silva was given one year in prison. Perales was placed on five years’ probation.


Vernon: The city’s mayor, Leonis Malburg, and his wife Dominica were charged with voter fraud and conspiracy in 2006. They were found guilty in 2009; Leonis was given five years’ probation and ordered to pay $579,000 in fines and restitution, while Dominica was placed on three years’ probation and ordered to pay nearly $40,000.


South Gate: Over the years, Al Robles served as a South Gate councilman, mayor, treasurer and deputy city manager. He went on to be a member of the Central Basin Municipal Water District. In 2005, he was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. In 2013, a federal appeals court threw out Robles’ convictions on public corruption and money laundering. The bribery counts remained; Robles is scheduled to be released from prison in 2015.


Lynwood: Two former city councilmen were convicted of misappropriating funds. Prosecutors say they received stipends for sitting on city commissions that didn’t do any work. Louis Byrd was sentenced to five years in state prison while Fernando Pedroza was given four. Politicians also used city-issued credit cards for concerts, golf tickets and sexual favors at a Mexican strip club.

Towing company profited off undocumented immigrants

An interesting aspect of the Times’ story about the Huntington Park scandal was that it showed the towing company targeted undocumented immigrants with its excessive fees — and were bitter about efforts to protect these individuals:

For decades, H.P. Tow, registered officially as H.P. Automotive and Tow Service Inc., has contracted with Huntington Park, city officials said.  …


Such city contracts traditionally have been coveted by tow companies as they often provide a steady flow of business and allow tow companies to charge the city and car owners an array of fees, including the daily storage fees while owners try to get their vehicles released from police custody.


In recent years, however, tow operators have been squeezed by local and state laws that restrict when police can impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers. The new regulations, which were enacted primarily to ease hardships experienced by immigrants living in the country illegally, have undercut significantly the number of vehicles impounded by police.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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