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Former Calexico City Council member David Romero and former city commissioner, Bruno Suarez-Soto, are next due before a federal judge on April 30 in U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, in San Diego. The pair’s sentencing on public corruptions charges has been rescheduled three times due to COVID-related concerns. | CHRIS UNDERWOOD/KPBS PHOTO

Third Time A Charm? Ex-Calexico Councilman, Crony Face April Sentencing

CALEXICO — Nine months have passed since disgraced former Calexico City Council member David Romero and his political crony, Bruno Suarez-Soto, pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges, yet the pair has still not been sentenced for their crime.

Former Calexico City Council member David Romero | FILE PHOTO

Romero and Suarez-Soto have been free on $10,000 bond each since their June 11, 2020, guilty plea to soliciting $35,000 in bribes from an undercover federal agent tied to fast-tracking a city permit for retail cannabis dispensary.

Since their initial sentencing date scheduled for Sept. 4 was vacated, the date has been continued three times, with Romero and Suarez-Soto to now go before federal judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo on April 30, according to court filings with the U.S. District Courthouse, Southern District of California, in San Diego.

“They would prefer to be in front of the court rather than remotely,” Romero’s San Diego-based defense attorney, Anthony Colombo Jr., told the Calexico Chronicle in late February, referring the standing order in place for videoconferencing and telephonic hearings at the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, in San Diego.

COVID-related restrictions put in place at San Diego federal courts were lifted on Monday, March 8, with the resumption of in-person pleas, sentencing, and jury trials in all criminal cases.

Romero and Suarez-Soto each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although Colombo has said, neither man was expected to serve the full terms. Suarez-Soto’s attorney, Donald LeVine, has never responded to requests for comment.

This photo of Bruno Suarez-Soto was cropped from a photo on Calexico City Council Member David Romero’s public and open Instagram page, taken from promotional materials for SMARTDentALL, a company in Mexicali for which both have worked. | FILE IMAGE

Attorneys for Romero and Suarez-Soto filed motions to continue the sentencing to April 30 back on Jan. 14, when both men were scheduled to appear via Zoom before Bencivengo on Jan. 22.

“The parties have exercised due diligence in preparing for sentencing, however, the parties are jointly requesting this continuance in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency,” according to the joint filing by Colombo and LeVine in January.

The crime for which they eventually pleaded guilty came to light at the end of May 2020, when Romero, then 36 and still seated on the Calexico City Council, and Suarez, then 28 and who had just recently resigned his role as Romero’s appointee to the Calexico Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, were charged in federal court and initially pleaded not guilty. 

As part of the agreement to then plead guilty, Romero and Suarez-Soto were required to resign from any public positions. Romero, who was mayor pro tem at the time and next in line for the mayorship, resigned from the City Council on June 8, 2020.

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.

To read more on their crimes and numerous documents tied to the case, click here.

Romero and Suarez-Soto’s charges and eventual plea deal set of a fresh torrent of public corruption claims in Calexico, which arguably led to a bloodletting at the polls, when three new faces and the man appointed to replace Romero, Camilo Garcia, were elected to the council in November.