It all started, authorities said, when Parker Williams, a former Alhambra councilman known as one of the town's pillars, pulled Councilman Daniel Arguello aside at a memorial service this summer.
Williams allegedly offered a bribe to Arguello in exchange for his support for a housing development. Arguello called authorities, who wired him for the money drop.
As investigators for the Los Angeles County district attorney's Public Integrity Division watched, Williams reached into the passenger door of his SUV and allegedly handed Arguello a thick envelope with $25,000 in cash.
"Here you go, enjoy," Williams said with a loud laugh, according to an investigator's affidavit.
Williams was arrested last month and faces trial on public corruption charges. He has not entered a plea but his attorney said he is not guilty.
"At this point he's planning to contest the charges, to fight the accusation," said his attorney Richard Hirsch, adding that he has not yet reviewed the charges.
The case, however, is reverberating beyond the courtroom.
Williams has become an issue in the upcoming Alhambra elections, with some candidates sending out mailers linking opponents to the former councilman.
And in neighboring Montebello, the city has canceled a deal with Westgate Group, a firm Williams had worked with in the past, to build a condo development on Whittier Boulevard.
Montebello officials said the development was part of the city's efforts to revitalize the boulevard.
Williams had worked for Montebello from 2000 to 2002 as an economic development coordinator.
Last year, he approached the city on behalf of Westgate, said Ruben Lopez, Montebello's community development director.
The city was interested in creating a condominium complex with affordable housing like one that Westgate and Williams had built in Alhambra.
To build the housing, the city was in the process of selling a 15,000-square-foot parcel to Westgate for $1. The city spent $450,000 to buy an adjoining 7,000-square-foot parcel for Westgate, Lopez said.
But after Williams was arrested, Lopez said, the city decided to kill the project. Lopez said the city has found no evidence of wrongdoing by Williams or anyone else connected to the condo development but that officials took the action to avoid the appearance of problems.
Many regard Williams as one of the city's elder statesmen, with a quarter century of elected office on the City Council and school board beginning in the late 1970s. He also served as president of the city's Chamber of Commerce.
He has endured as a civic leader even as the middle-class community of 89,000 northeast of downtown Los Angeles has seen a dramatic change in demographics. The city had a white majority into the 1980s, when it saw an influx of Latinos and Asian Americans.
At 67, Williams cut a lean, athletic figure. A marathoner, he would wake up at 4 a.m. to run, acquaintances said. When his knees began to bother him, he took to bicycling long distances. He paddled from San Pedro to Santa Catalina Island on a longboard, Mayor Paul Talbot said. Charming, likable and politically connected, he was a frequent master of ceremonies at civic events.
Talbot said Williams was someone who was impatient to get things done. He said that as a councilman, Williams was instrumental in preserving a lucrative row of auto dealerships near Main Street and Atlantic Boulevard at a time when many preferred locations near freeways.
"He was the kind of person who said, 'Let's just get this done,' " said Talbot, expressing surprise and disbelief at the accusations against Williams. "He was probably the emcee at most of our community events, our chamber dinner, retirement dinners ... or if there was a community roast. He was very outgoing."
But a recently unsealed search warrant related to the bribery case paints a picture of someone who used his charm for illicit purposes.
According to the records, Arguello said that Williams approached him in early June at a memorial service for a longtime Alhambra resident.
Williams allegedly offered the councilman $2,500 for his support of a senior citizens housing project, adding that he would not run for the council seat of an Arguello ally, Efren Moreno, the documents said.
A week later, they talked on the phone. Arguello told investigators he warned Williams that there would be no quid pro quo over the project.
They met Aug. 8 in the parking lot of a drugstore on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, authorities said.
It was then that Williams allegedly handed Arguello an envelope with cash. After some discussion, Arguello placed the envelope back in Williams' SUV. Williams told Arguello that perhaps he would offer the money to Councilman Moreno instead, according to the affidavit.
Later that day, Arguello called the district attorney's Public Integrity Division.
About a week later, investigators connected tape recorders in the conference room of Arguello's office, the documents said.