Former Santa Cruz County Assessor Pleads Guilty to Bribery Conspiracy

Felipe Fuentes, 62, of Nogales, Arizona, pleaded guilty last week for his role in a long-running bribery conspiracy that spanned much of his tenure as the elected County Assessor for Santa Cruz County.

Fuentes pleaded guilty to a felony charge of Conspiracy to Commit Honest Services Wire Fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for August 2, 2022 before the Honorable Raner C. Collins, Senior United States District Judge.

According to Fuentes’ admissions in connection with the plea hearing, Fuentes and other co-conspirators engaged in a multi-year bribery scheme in which Fuentes received cash payments from a large landowner in Santa Cruz County. Fuentes admitted that, in exchange for the cash payments, he took various official acts in his capacity as the County Assessor to benefit the landowner, including reducing assessed values for properties owned by him and his business entities.

According to Fuentes’ plea agreement, in addition to the cash payments, the landowner also allowed Fuentes to use a 17-acre ranch owned by one of his business entities free of charge for multiple years during the course of the bribery conspiracy.

“Property taxes pay for critical local government services that support our communities,” said United States Attorney Gary Restaino. “Fuentes abused the public trust when he reduced the assessed value of property, and by doing so diverted money away from Santa Cruz County in order to serve his own self-interest.”

“The citizens of Arizona deserve a government free of corruption. The FBI will not tolerate those who abuse their positions of authority and is committed to rooting out public corruption and civil rights violations at all levels,” said Sean Kaul, special agent in charge of the FBI Phoenix Field Office. “The FBI continues to investigate this case and encourages the public to come forward if they have any information.”


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