The self-proclaimed “Godfather” of Camp Pendleton, California, was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday after he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for funneling construction projects to contractors. It’s the latest prison term for a series of dirty deals that the federal government has targeted at the Marine Corps base.
Nate Cervantes, a civilian who oversaw construction and service contracts at the base, admitted to accepting more than $100,000 in bribes in January, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney Office for the Southern District of California. Now, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia ordered Cervantes to surrender to authorities by Sept. 30, and to turn over $106,964 that he illegally received.
Cervantes, 64, of San Diego, pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official — charges that respectively carry a maximum of 15 and five year prison sentences, as well as fines.
Cervantes tainted the network of construction contractors at the base, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said.
“Nate Cervantes used his considerable influence and popularity at Camp Pendleton to foster a culture of corruption among contractors at the military base,” Duffy said in a statement. “This scandal has undermined public confidence in the fairness of the system.”
Court documents show that kickbacks and bribes were common amongst a group of construction contractors who worked at Pendleton.
One FBI informant, a construction contractor who was also the target in a kickback investigation, told an FBI agent that between 2008 and 2011, he gave Cervantes about $20,000 in bribes, according to court documents. He also said that Cervantes claimed he was the “ ‘Godfather’ at Camp Pendleton,” and at one time asked the witness to hire his granddaughter as an administrative assistant.
The witness said Cervantes also asked and received free work on his San Diego condominium. Another confidential witness, also a contractor under investigation for kickbacks, told a special agent that he believed the work on the condo was funded by surreptitiously changing work for a government project.
Cervantes was arrested on March 28, 2013, in a sting operation in which one of the witnesses paid a portion of a $40,000 bribe intended to get a $4 million flooring contract at Pendleton. The witness and Cervantes met in a cigar lounge near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and later went to the witness’s sports utility vehicle to exchange money. Moments later, Cervantes was arrested by FBI agents.
Two others contractors, Hugo Hernandez Alonso and Bayani Yabut Abueg Jr., were also charged and sentenced in the scandal, according to an FBI statement.
Alonso, the president of Hugo Alonso, Inc., pleaded guilty for conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official and an anti-kickback violation in January. In June he was sentenced to one year of prison, three years of supervised release and a nearly $127,000 fine.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, as a part of his plea, Alonso made bribes related to at least six contracts between 2008 and 2011. In one case he gave Cervantes $25,000 to help his business receive a $3.5 million flooring contract at Pendleton. In all, Alonso gave Cervantes at least $119,000 in bribes, according to the attorney’s office.
In January, Abueg — the president of MBR Associates — pleaded guilty for conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official, an anti-kickback violation and filing a false tax return, according to the FBI statement. In June he was sentenced to six months and three years of supervised probation, and he also has to pay the Internal Revenue Service $105,025 in restitution and a $366,140 fine. The U.S. Attorney’s office said that in 2011 Abueg gave Cervantes a bribe tied to a $3 million contract.
Alonso’s company was fined nearly $127,000 and sentenced to probation for five years. Abueg’s company was sentenced to probation for five years and fined $375,000.