Mayor Pro Tem David Romero (second from left) is shown next to Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge (third from left) during the June 3 Calexico City Council meeting in which Hodge would make a statement regarding the criminal allegations against Romero. ONLINE SCREEN CAPTURE

UPDATE: Former Councilman Romero, Appointee Suarez Plead Guilty to Corruption; Some 15 People Looking to Fill Romero’s Seat

UPDATED 3 p.m. June 14: Recently resigned Calexico Mayor Pro Tem David Romero and his former political appointee, Bruno Suarez-Soto, pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges in a San Diego federal court June 11, said Deputy U.S. Attorney Nicholas Pilchak.

Former Calexico City Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem David Romero. PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF CALEXICO

Sentencing for Romero and Suarez will be Sept. 4 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo, but both men remain free on $10,000 bond until their return to court, Pilchak said.

Pilchak said the pair’s admission of guilt closely aligns with the federal charging document already filed in their indictment and arraignment from May 21.

The full plea-agreement documents for each man were made available to the public June 12.

The last paragraph of each man’s plea agreement document states this was “not the first bribe payment that the pair had accepted as part of this scheme,” according to Pilchak.

Romero, who resigned from the Calexico City Council on June 8, declined to comment to the Calexico Chronicle directly, but made a statement through his attorney, Anthony Colombo of San Diego.

“Mr. Romero, has in part, absent of this incident, served his community both tirelessly and faithfully. He’s also served his country honorably in the military, and he is a man dedicated to his family. In this current political environment that exists, I believe Mr. Romero’s decision to admit to the mistake that he made and accept the responsibility for his action is something that should be applauded.

This photo of Bruno Suarez-Soto was cropped from a photo on Calexico City Council Member David Romero’s public and open Instagram page, taken from promotional materials for SMARTDentALL, a company in Mexicali for which both have worked.

“Unlike the many politicians in our political environment today, who would have looked to deny the allegations, Mr. Romero has made the right decision for his community so that he and his community can move on from this,” Colombo said.

Romero, 36, and Suarez, 28, previously pleaded not guilty May 21 to soliciting $35,000 in bribes from an undercover federal agent tied to fast-tracking a city permit for a retail cannabis dispensary.

Colombo said neither Romero nor Suarez have implicated anyone else in the crime for which they pleaded guilty.

A message was left with Suarez’s attorney, Donald LeVine, also seeking comment, but he was not immediately available. Suarez was a former member of the Calexico Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission.

While it is true Romero and Suarez have admitted to their guilt and that Romero resigned from the Calexico City Council, how much of that decision to resign was for the good of the community and how much was driven by the plea agreement is unclear.

One of the stipulations of the plea agreement accepted by both men and all the parties involved — defense and prosecution — is that both men resign from public office within 10 days of the execution of the agreements, which were filed the afternoon of June 11 but agreed to several days beforehand.

Romero resigned in a one-page letter to the city and Calexico residents June 8. Suarez had long resigned from his position as a city commissioner before they were ever arraigned.

“David Romero was about to become the highest-ranking public official in the city of Calexico, but he and his partner-in-crime sold their power and influence to the highest bidder in a secret pay-to-play scheme,” stated U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer in a June 11 press release. “They are the ones who will pay now.”

“The corruption, lies, and greed of Romero and Suarez-Soto were uncovered by FBI Agents working in our Imperial Valley Office,” stated Omer Meisel, Acting FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Division and Imperial County Resident Agency, in the same release. “The community in Imperial Valley has a right to leaders who put the public’s interest first and serve the community honorably. The FBI is committed to investigating those who violate their position of trust.”

To read the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release in its entirety, click here.

Read our previous in-depth coverage of the crimes to which Romero and Suarez have pleaded guilty.

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