Header Image: Former Baldwin Park City Attorney Robert Tafoya. (Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News/file)

The San Bernardino Sun

Officials accused of swindling ‘an elderly man dying of cancer who poured his life savings into a venture that was destined for failure’

A cannabis company in Baldwin Park is suing the city, its former city attorney and several other public officials under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, based on allegations that the city’s rollout of commercial cannabis was rigged to benefit the officials and their allies.

The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday, Jan. 18, by David Ju, names Baldwin Park, former City Attorney Robert Tafoya, former Deputy City Attorney Anthony Willoughby II, former Councilmember Ricardo Pacheco, former Compton Councilmember Isaac Galvan, former Baldwin Park Mayor Manny Lozano and former Chief Deputy Cty Clerk Lourdes Morales as defendants.

“These individuals acted in concert to orchestrate a swindle on an elderly man dying of cancer who poured his life savings into a venture that was destined for failure from the get-go and nothing more than a collusive scheme marred by bribery and corruption,” wrote attorney David Torres-Siegrist in the lawsuit.

Ju bought a cannabis company, Tier One Consulting, in October 2018 after it received approval to operate within the city limits. He alleges he entered into an agreement to buy the company from Willoughby II, who would later be hired by then-City Attorney Robert Tafoya to work on cannabis-related matters. The deal was brokered by Galvan, according to the lawsuit.

Willoughby II has denied having an ownership stake in Tier One in the past and has stated that it was owned by his father, Anthony Willoughby.

Pacheco, a former councilmember caught up in a different bribery scheme, later would agree to a plea deal with federal investigators where he alleged under penalty of perjury that Galvan and Tafoya were involved in his efforts to solicit bribes from cannabis companies looking to operate in Baldwin Park.

Tafoya and Galvan, as well as San Bernardino County Planning Commissioner Gabriel Chavez, were raided by the FBI as part of a sweeping probe into corruption in the cannabis industry in 2020. Chavez agreed to a plea deal earlier this year, while Galvan and Tafoya have not been charged.

An unsealed plea agreement with Pacheco alleges Tafoya gave Pacheco the idea to find an intermediary to accept bribes from cannabis companies and that Galvan eventually facilitated some of those bribes.

“Plaintiffs allege that the pattern has been one of racketeering activity involving multiple criminal acts, including but not limited to, bribery, kickbacks and other improper relationships throughout the application and granting process, as well as defrauding individuals, such as plaintiffs, through the use and abuse of their positions within the city,” the lawsuit alleges.

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Cannabis company files federal RICO case against Baldwin Park, former city attorney

Sean Hocking

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