For Immediate Release
August 5, 2009 United States Attorney's Office
Central District of California
Contact: (213) 894-2434
Lawyer Arrested for Accepting Cash in Exchange for Promise to Tamper with Grand Jury Witness Testimony
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint filed yesterday in United States District Court in Los Angeles, Villalobos agreed to the Century City meeting to accept more than $50,000 in cash, which was to be the first installment of a $107,000 bribe from a second attorney who in fact was cooperating with the FBI. The second attorney, identified in court papers as “CW2,” represents an individual identified in court papers as “CW1.” The complaint provides limited details about the alleged immigration fraud in which CW1 is being investigated for possibly providing false proof of employment to assist immigrants to fraudulently obtain status under a provision of federal law that makes immigrants engaged in religious occupations eligible for work visas. CW1 is suspected of paying wages to immigrants, who then used their paychecks to verify their employment as religious workers at a social service organization that was operated by CW1. The immigrants allegedly then returned their wages to the organization. Villalobos represented one of the purported workers involved in the immigration fraud under investigation by the grand jury. Villalobos advised CW2 that Villalobos' client was contacted by the government to provide testimony about the alleged fraud and therefore was in a position to assist CW2's client. During a series of communications between Villalobos and CW2 detailed in the complaint affidavit, Villalobos proposed a strategy in which he would instruct his client to provide false testimony that would benefit CW1, the subject of the alleged immigration fraud, by asserting that the employment with the social service organization and payment by CW1 was legitimate. In exchange for the false testimony by his client, Villalobos expected to be paid $107,000 in cash. Villalobos explained that his client would be coached to make false statements during an upcoming interview scheduled with a federal prosecutor, and he “guaranteed” that his client would provide testimony consistent with that interview during grand jury testimony. Villalobos suggested to CW2 that the illicit payment be disguised as a settlement for a sexual harassment matter between his client and CW2's client, proposing that that they fabricate a “plausible” scenario based on their purported employee-employer relationship. CW2 cooperated with the FBI by making consensual recordings of his conversations with Villalobos, during which Villalobos requested $107,000 in cash, plus charitable donation receipts from the social service organization where the immigrants were allegedly employed. At one point, Villalobos suggested that part of the payment could be in the form of a $6,000 charitable donation receipt for a $100 painting he would donate to the social services organization. According to the complaint, Villalobos stated that he preferred to avoid putting his agreement with CW2 in writing, and indicated he had engaged in receiving large cash payments in the past. Villalobos stated that on one occasion he had received a bag containing $80,000, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that when CW2 asked Villalobos what would happen if the money was not paid in exchange for the manufactured testimony, Villalobos said that CW2's client would be “rolling the dice.” Villalobos also agreed that, for an additional fee, he would instruct his client to make false statements about another witness expected to be subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury that was investigating the alleged immigration scheme. Villalobos agreed to instruct his client to provide information indicating the additional witness was unhappy with CW1 while employed at the social services organization. Villalobos agreed that such statements would lead the grand jury to believe that a fraud scheme did not exist, but rather, that CW1 was targeted by a disgruntled employee who fabricated criminal activity involving immigration fraud.
Villalobos and CW2 scheduled yesterday afternoon's meeting in Century City so the first half of the $107,000 bribe could be paid in cash. Villalobos agreed to accept the other half after his client provided the promised false testimony. After Villalobos accepted the cash, he was taken into custody without incident. Villalobos will have an initial appearance before a federal magistrate this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. The alleged immigration scheme discussed in the complaint remains under investigation, and no additional details regarding the matter can be released due to the ongoing investigation. A criminal complaint involves allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. The charge of obstruction of a grand jury proceeding carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.