State lawmaker and former Tempe City Councilman Ben Arredondo was charged with bribery, extortion, mail fraud and making false statements following a sting where FBI agents posed as developers.
The indictment claims Arredondo demanded the faux-developers buy him a table at two charity events, tickets to college and pro football games and later divulged information to help the undercover agents with a bid for city-owned land.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Arredondo took more than $6,000 worth of tickets and special events in 2009 and 2010 in return for using his position at the city and in the state House of Representatives to help the developer with a project.
The indictment alleges that Arredondo, 63, lied to FBI agents about his conduct when he was interviewed in January.
Arredondo’s attorney said the facts are very different from the government’s allegations, but that he’ll wait until a trial to speak further.
“What we will say, though, is that Ben Arredondo has dedicated his life to the city of Tempe, Maricopa County and the state of Arizona, having served as a teacher, a football and wrestling coach, a city councilman, a county supervisor and a member of the Arizona House of Representatives,” attorney Lee Stein said in a statement. “He has done many, many good things over his years of service and these allegations do not change any of that.”
The 10-page indictment claims the FBI formed a fictitious company to develop real estate, and that Arredondo first solicited an agent in February 2009 for a $525 table at a charity event. He asked for a $600 table at another event the next month, according to the indictment, with the understanding he would pick his guests at both events.
Arredondo accepted two tickets worth $305.95 to an Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49rs game in September 2009, records state.
And the indictment alleges Arredondo took 18 tickets worth about $2,400 for various Arizona Diamondbacks games in 2010. The indictment said that to conceal that he accepted tickets while on the City Council, Arredondo told the agents to mail the tickets to his house after his term ended July 1.
According to the indictment: “Arredondo gave that instruction ‘to make it a lot easier’ for him because, as he explained, ‘I’m through with this council after that, and then I can honestly say I’ve never taken a look at these guys until after this.’” The indictment claims he got the tickets July 2.
Arredondo got two college basketball tickets worth $1,200 while in the Legislature in November 2010, the indictment states.
Arredondo told one agent in 2009 that he would speak with Tempe’s development manager to set up a phone call between that official and the developer, documents state. The claim alleges Arredondo later gave the developer information about Tempe’s bidding process and how much the city would accept for its land.
The indictment states Arredondo told the agent he would work to influence the planning official’s decision on the project. It continues that Arredondo set up a meeting with the developer and a person who had just been elected to the City Council. According to the indictment, Arredondo made reference to his election to the House and told the developer: “You guys will ask, you guys will have. I don’t know how else to say it. We’ll be just fine because not only we’re covered at the city, we’re covered now at the state.”
Arredondo advocated the project to other elected officials, but the indictment said he never told them or staff members about gifts he’d received.
Arredondo was charged with federal bribery, attempted extortion, making false statements and two counts of mail fraud. He will be arraigned May 30. If convicted, Arredondo faces a $250,000 fine per charge and prison sentences ranging from 5 years to 20 years per charge.
Tempe released a statement saying it was not aware of the FBI operation, adding elected officials and employees should be held to the highest professional standards.
“In order to uphold the public trust, we are taking the allegations in the investigations seriously and, if needed, will examine any business processes or actions that might have been compromised,” the city’s statement reads.
Arredondo was a Republican but registered as a Democrat when he ran for the Legislature in a Democratic-leaning district.
The Arredondo family has deep roots in Tempe, settling there from Mexico in the early 1900s. Arredondo and his five brothers were all educators.
His attorney provided contacts with people who would vouch for Arredondo’s character, including Chandler grocery magnate Eddie Basha.
The businessman and education advocate said he’s known Arredondo for decades and didn’t think twice when Stein asked him to speak about the longtime politician and educator.
“He’s devoted his whole life to children,” Basha said. “He’s just one fine human being. What is so unfortunate is when a guy gives his entire life back to society and somebody says we think you’ve done something wrong, now the person is probably going to have to forfeit the equity he’s built up in life to defend his integrity.”
Basha said he felt for Arredondo because he was investigated following his unsuccessful bid for governor in 1994. The grocer said Stein called him Tuesday with a hint of what was to come, but that he didn’t know the specifics of the allegations.
“I think Ben Arredondo is an outstanding citizen,” Basha said. “He is a great father, a good husband. I think he’s been a great educator. There are countless people whose lives he’s touched.”
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