Marcelo Co, who has agreed to plead guilty to a bribery charge after
accepting $2.3 million in what authorities believe is the largest
illegal payment ever taken by a U.S. politician in an undercover
sting, makes me believe that maybe our town is not as corrupt as many
seem to believe.
Cases like this always bring memories to my mind.
Some thirty or so years ago the best Federal judge Nevada ever had,
Harry Clairborne, was falsely accused by a lowlife, good-for-nothing
pimp and owner of a brothel, of accepting bribes of $85,000 for
something that never occurred. The FBI wanted to destroy the
reputation of the good judge and they sent him to prison for two long
years. Did they destroy his reputation? Nah.
In May 2006, Dario Herrera, a Clark County Commissioner, was convicted
of 17 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion stemming from
charges that he and other officials used their public offices to
further the interests of Michael Galardi, a Strip club owner in Las
Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, also a County Commissioner, a woman very much
respected by the citizens, also was convicted in May 2006 of charges
related to accepting bribes from then-Strip club owner Michael
Pittance money was involved in all these cases — nothing compared to
the $2.3 million accepted by the former city commissioner from
Authorities claimed Marcelo Co promised an undercover FBI agent who
posed as a real estate broker that he could control a voting majority
of the five-member council to sway land use decisions.
Records show that Co eventually agreed to sell a 30-acre parcel he
owned in Moreno Valley, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, to the FBI
undercover operative for $5.3 million.
The land was appraised at $710,000, but Co said once zoning laws were
changed by the council, the parcel would increase in value 500
percent. At a meeting in January, Co and the operative met and agreed
that publicly filed documents would reflect a $3 million sales price
for Co’s land. Authorities said Co then took $2.3 million in cash.
According to reports, a grainy surveillance photo released by federal
investigators shows a large stack of money on a table in front of Co.
Federal investigators contacted Co soon after the meeting and all the
money was returned.
Authorities also said Co accepted bribes totaling $15,000 from the
operative, saying he would always vote in favor of any of the
Co was elected to the council in November 2010 and resigned from his
seat in August after being charged in state court in an unrelated
welfare fraud case.
The case against Co is the latest in a series of civic corruption
scandals that have plagued Southern California in recent years.
Five former council members were convicted of fraud charges in March
and ex-City Manager Robert Rizzo has pleaded no contest to 69 counts
and is awaiting sentencing.
I wonder if this is all true or if it is just another trick of federal
agents to discredit yet one more politician.
Perly Viasmensky is the General Manager of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Perly Viasmensky,
email her at pviasmensky@lasvegas tribune.com.