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US lawyer jailed for bribery

Editorial Staff

The bribery was the least of the worries of California lawyer Alfred Nash Villalobos, 46. It was the reason he was paid USD50,000 that really annoyed prosecutors and the Judge.

Villalobos has been sentenced to three years in jail after being convicted on charges that he accepted a bribe after promising that a client would lie to authorities conducting a federal grand jury investigation.

Villalobos, who formerly lived in South Lake Tahoe, was sentenced on 22 June 2012 by United States District Judge George H. King. Villalobos was convicted in August 2011 of attempting to obstruct a grand jury investigation and interfering with interstate commerce by extortion.

During today’s sentencing hearing, Judge King described Villalobos’ crimes as “extraordinarily serious offences” that “threatened the integrity of grand jury proceedings” that are “the foundation of the justice system in this country.” Judge King noted that Villaobos was “an attorney who had taken an oath to uphold the law,” but the lawyer was driven by “his own greed and financial gain.”

“Attorneys need simply to know: If you attempt to corrupt the system of justice, there will be severe consequences to pay,” Judge King said as he imposed the prison term.

Villalobos formerly lived in the West Hills district of Los Angeles and, according to California State Bar records, had an office in that part of the San Fernando Valley. In 2009, when he still resided in the Los Angeles area, Villalobos solicited cash and other compensation totalling more than USD100,000 from the target of a federal grand jury investigation. In exchange for the payments, Villalobos agreed to cause his client, who was a witness in the grand jury investigation, to make specific false statements to the Assistant United States Attorney and the grand jury conducting that investigation. This conduct formed the basis of the obstruction of justice charge.

In addition to obstructing justice, Villalobos was found guilty of attempting to interfere with commerce through the wrongful use of fear to extort cash payments and other compensation.

The evidence presented at trial established that Villalobos agreed to a meeting on 4 August, 2009 at a Century City law firm. At the meeting, Villalobos received USD50,000 in cash, which was to be the first instalment of a USD107,000 bribe.

The bribe was paid by an attorney who represented the target of an investigation into immigration visa fraud who was cooperating with authorities. The FBI had opened an investigation into Villalobos when he first proposed the bribe scheme to the Century City attorney. At the time, Villalobos was representing a worker involved in the immigration fraud scheme who had been contacted by the government to provide testimony about the alleged fraud. During a series of communications between Villalobos and the Century City attorney who was representing the target of the investigation, Villalobos proposed a plan in which he would instruct his client to provide false testimony that would benefit the target of the immigration fraud investigation. In exchange for the false testimony, Villalobos expected more than USD100,000 in cash and other forms of payment. Villalobos explained that his client would be coached to make false statements during an interview with a federal prosecutor, and he “guaranteed” that his client would provide testimony consistent with that interview during later contemplated grand jury hearing .

The Century City attorney reported Villalobos’ proposed scheme to the FBI, and he made recordings of his conversations with Villalobos. During the conversations, Villalobos requested USD107,000 in cash, plus charitable donation receipts. At one point, Villalobos suggested that part of the payment could be in the form of a USD6,000 charitable donation receipt for a USD100 painting he would donate to the organisation allegedly involved in the immigration visa fraud.

Villalobos also agreed that, for an additional fee, he would instruct his client to make false statements about another witness expected to give a statement to federal prosecutors. Villalobos said that the false statements would lead the government to believe that a fraud scheme did not exist and that the other witness was a disgruntled employee who fabricated allegations of immigration fraud.

Villalobos agreed to the meeting in Century City so the first USD50,000 of the USD107,000 bribe could be paid in cash. Villalobos agreed to accept the remainder after his client provided the promised false testimony. After Villalobos accepted the cash, he was taken into custody by FBI agents posing as workers in the law firm.

In December 2011, the State Bar of California suspended Villalobos’s law licence based on his convictions in this case.