Saturday, October 06, 2012

Corruption: US - State representative pleads guilty in connection with bribery scheme

U.S. Department of Justice 
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON—Arizona State Representative Paul Ben Arredondo pleaded guilty today in Phoenix federal court, admitting that he solicited and took a bribe in exchange for promises of official action both as a city councilmember and a state representative. Arredondo also pleaded guilty to mail fraud, admitting that he defrauded donors to the Ben Arredondo scholarship fund. The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge James L. Turgal of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office.

Arredondo pleaded guilty to depriving the citizens of the city of Tempe, Arizona, and the state of Arizona of his honest services as an elected official and to committing mail fraud. He entered his guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frederick J. Martone.

Arredondo, 65, of Tempe, was a Tempe city councilmember for approximately 16 years, until July 2010. In November 2010, Arredondo was elected to the House of Representatives of the Arizona State Legislature.

During his plea, Arredondo admitted that from February 2009 to November 2010, he solicited and accepted things of value, collectively a bribe, from representatives of “Company A,” a fictitious company operated by FBI undercover agents that was purportedly seeking to develop real estate projects in Tempe. Arredondo took the bribe with the intent to be influenced in the performance of his official duties, first as a councilmember and later as an elected member of the Arizona House of Representatives. Arredondo admitted that the things he took included tickets to college and professional sporting events, some of which he caused to be mailed to his home, and tables at charity events with his choice of guests.

In exchange for the bribe, Arredondo agreed to take a number of official actions, including revealing confidential information to Company A—such as the price Tempe would be willing to accept for property and the best way to present a purchase proposal. He also agreed to use his position as a councilmember to influence the decisions of other Tempe officials in ways that were favorable to Company A; to contact various Tempe officials to facilitate and promote the company’s efforts to win support for its real estate project; and, following his election to the Arizona House of Representatives, to assure representatives of Company A that he would continue to support Company A’s project. Arredondo did not disclose that he had received anything of value from representatives of the company during any of his interactions with Tempe officials about Company A.

Arredondo also admitted during his plea that he fraudulently used the Arredondo Scholarship Fund—which he established in 2001 and operated through at least 2011—to benefit his own relatives without informing donors. In support of the fund, Arredondo solicited and received contributions—in part by telling prospective donors that the fund would pay for college fees and books for “average” students—and assured donors that fund payments would not go to those “whose parents have saved a college fund” or otherwise qualified for scholarships. Arredondo never told prospective donors that a portion of their donations would be used to make scholarship payments for the benefit of his own family members. Through 2011, Arredondo caused the scholarship fund to pay approximately $49,750 to three different educational institutions in Arizona on behalf of seven of his relatives. In furtherance of his scheme to defraud donors, he caused a letter to be sent to ASU on behalf of the fund that directed how payments should be allocated, stating, “The students are not the children nor any other direct relatives” of the fund’s administrators.

Arredondo pleaded guilty to one count each of honest services mail fraud and mail fraud. Each charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the amount gained or lost in the scheme. Sentencing has been scheduled for January 22, 2013.

The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief M. Kendall Day and Trial Attorney Monique T. Abrishami of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Battista of the District of Arizona. The case is being investigated by agents from the FBI Phoenix Field Office.