A former state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control official was charged with accepting bribes from a consultant in exchange for initiating liquor-enforcement actions against Koreatown-area stores to bolster the consultant’s business, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Wilbur M. Salao, 46, of Bellflower, allegedly accepted more than $28,000 in bribes from 2014-16 while he worked as a district administrator in the state agency’s Los Angeles office, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The bribes were allegedly paid by Scott Seo, 49, of San Pedro, who worked at ABC for 15 years before starting a liquor-business consulting company in the Koreatown area in 2006, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, Seo would pay off Salao, who in turn would initiate ABC enforcement and disciplinary actions against businesses selected by Seo. Salao would also provide Seo with confidential ABC information, expedite liquor-license processing for Seo’s clients and tip him off about upcoming law-enforcement actions, allowing Seo’s business clients to cover up illegal activities, prosecutors said.
In some cases, Salao’s initiation of enforcement actions would prompt the targeted business to hire Seo, prosecutors said. Seo would also collect additional fees from existing clients targeted by ABC, or he would force the business owners to sell the establishment to him or his associates, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors said the scheme targeted at least eight Koreatown businesses. In one case, ABC raided a Koreatown business in late 2011, prompting the company to pay Seo $60,000 in consulting fees, some of which was used to bribe Salao, who then issued a temporary license allowing the business to keep operating, according to prosecutors.
Salao, a 21-year employee of ABC, left the agency in May 2017. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of conspiracy, four counts of honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud.
Seo surrendered to authorities on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to the same charges, along with four counts of bribery.
Seo faces up to 205 years in federal prison if convicted of all charges, while Salao faces up to 164 years. Both men are free on $20,000 bond, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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