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
Sentencing of disgraced former Calexico City Council member David Romero and his political appointee, Bruno Suarez-Soto, who pleaded guilty to federal public corruption in mid-June, has been delayed until early November, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Romero, who resigned from the Calexico council on June 8 as part of a plea agreement while serving as mayor pro tem, and Suarez, who was a former member of the Calexico Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission appointed to the seat by Romero, were due to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo on Sept. 4.
However, both men will now go before Bencivengo at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 6.
The rescheduled sentencing comes “upon the joint request of the parties for additional time to complete the presentence reports and gather other sentencing documents,” according to a federal change of hearing document filed with the U.S. District Court in San Diego.
“Basically, a presentence report is prepared by a probation officer to help the judge decide what sentence to give,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Thornton stated in an email Sept 8.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the request to push the sentencing back came from all parties; it’s been believed the case for which Romero and Suarez were arrested and pleaded guilty has been ongoing, but U.S. Attorney’s Office representatives would not confirm this.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Pilchak, who brokered the plea agreement along with Romero’s attorney, Anthony Colombo, and Suarez’s attorney, Donald LeVine, had no further comment other than to confirm the sentencing had been delayed. Colombo and LeVine did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Romero and Suarez admitted to accepting $35,000 in payments from an undercover FBI agent posing as a prospective developer looking to fast track the permitting of a retail cannabis operation in the city of Calexico in late 2019 and early 2020.
The crime came to light at the end of May, when Romero and Suarez were charged in federal court and initially pleaded not guilty. They have remained free on $10,000 bond since their federal arraignments.
Both men changed their pleas to guilty in early June.
The pair had indicated that they had been involved in taking bribes at least once before, telling FBI agents this wasn’t their “first rodeo,” a claim they doubled-down on in their plea agreements, according to federal prosecutors.
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“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.”
Romero and Suarez’s crime set off a ripple effect for the city, effectively bringing charges of public corruption among the city back into the foreground of public conversation in Calexico, whether rightly so or not.
However, no other arrests have been made to this day concerning public corruption and city officials tied to cannabis operations.
In June, the city promised to vet all existing protocols and procedures, and existing permits, tied to cannabis in Calexico, a process that began when the city hired outside contractor HdL Companies of Brea to handle past and future cannabis matters.