New details show sprawling web of corruption in Southern California cannabis licensing

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As a California lawmaker called for a statewide task force to crack down on corruption in the legal cannabis market, new details are emerging in a bribery scandal that has ensnared local government officials from the Inland Empire to the San Gabriel Valley and southeast Los Angeles County.

Federal prosecutors have unveiled two plea agreements that detail pay-to-play schemes involving cannabis business licensing and corroborate allegations in a Times investigation last month that examined how legalization of weed unleashed a wave of corruption across California.

In one of the agreements, former Baldwin Park City Councilmember Ricardo Pacheco admitted soliciting bribes from weed businesses — including $150,000 from a consultant working for a local cannabis distributor. The consultant declined, but at the direction of the FBI delivered campaign contributions requested by Pacheco, the agreement said. The agreement doesn’t name the distributor, but its description of the dates the firm was awarded the exclusive right to distribute cannabis matches only one company, Rukli Inc.

In the other plea agreement, a former San Bernardino County planning commissioner, Gabriel Chavez, admitted acting as an intermediary to funnel bribes from pot businesses to Pacheco as part of the scheme.

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