Thursday, August 6, 2009
Ex-West Hills Attorney Charged With Accepting Bribe
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former West Hills attorney has been arrested after allegedly accepting $53,500 in cash that he believed was half of a bribe being paid in exchange for him to instruct his client to lie to a federal prosecutor and a federal grand jury investigating allegations of immigration fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said yesterday that Alfred Nash Villalobos, who recently relocated to South Lake Tahoe, was arrested Tuesday afternoon by FBI agents at a law office in Century City and charged with obstruction of a grand jury proceeding.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 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 was cooperating with the FBI. He was taken into custody without incident after accepting the money, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The second attorney represents an individual under investigation 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.
The individual 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 the individual. The immigrants allegedly then returned their wages to the organization.
Villalobos represented one of the purported workers involved in the alleged immigration fraud, and allegedly advised the other attorney that Villalobos’ client was contacted by the government to provide testimony and therefore in a position to assist the other attorney’s client.
A complaint filed with the U.S. District Court alleges Villalobos proposed a strategy in which he would instruct his client to provide false testimony that would benefit the other attorney’s client by asserting that the employment with the social service organization and payment by that individual was legitimate.
Villalobos also allegedly suggested that the illicit payment be disguised as a settlement for a sexual harassment matter between his client and the other attorney’s client, proposing that that they fabricate a “plausible” scenario based on their purported employee-employer relationship.
The other attorney cooperated with the FBI by making consensual recordings of conversations with Villalobos.
According to the complaint, Villalobos stated that he preferred to avoid putting his agreement with the other attorney in writing, and indicated he had engaged in receiving large cash payments in the past. He also allegedly stated that on one occasion he had received a bag containing $80,000.
The complaint further states that when the other attorney asked Villalobos what would happen if the money was not paid in exchange for the manufactured testimony, Villalobos said that attorney’s client would be “rolling the dice.”
Villalobos also allegedly agreed to instruct his client to make false statements about another witness expected to be subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in order to lead the grand jury to believe that the purported immigration fraud scheme was a fabrication concocted by a disgruntled employee.
Villalobos was scheduled to have an initial appearance before a federal magistrate yesterday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
The charge of obstruction of a grand jury proceeding carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
According to the State Bar’s website, Villalobos was disciplined in 2004 after stipulating that he failed to maintain client funds in a trust account, communicate with a client or promptly pay out client funds.
After settling a personal injury case for $14,500, Villalobos issued a check to his client for $5,000 but placed a stop payment order on the check. He did not give the client the money owed to her for more than two years, and he did not pay her doctor bills for two years.
In mitigation, Villalobos claimed he waited to have several claims clarified before disbursing the settlement funds. He also cooperated with the bar’s investigation.
He was given an actual suspension of 30 days, placed on one-year probation and ordered to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination within the year. However, he was again suspended in 2006 after failing to pass the examination.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company