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Moreno Valley Councilman Marcelo Co resigns after arrest

Marcelo Co, a subject of a federal corruption inquiry, has now also been accused of defrauding a county-run program of $15,000.

August 13, 2013|By Richard Winton
  • Marcelo Co, 64, was taken into custody after the Riverside County district attorney’s office filed eight felony counts against him, including grand theft, fraud and making a false claim.
Marcelo Co, 64, was taken into custody after the Riverside County district… (Riverside County Sheriff's…)

A Moreno Valley councilman whose home was recently searched as part of a federal corruption probe resigned Tuesday after being arrested and charged with fraudulently collecting $15,000 in home support services for his mother when she was overseas.

Marcelo Co, 64, was taken into custody Monday afternoon after the Riverside County district attorney's office filed eight felony counts against him, including grand theft, fraud and making a false claim.

The charges are "entirely separate" from the corruption investigation that led to raids on Co's home and those of several other council members in April, said John Hall, a spokesman for Riverside County Dist. Atty. Paul Zellerbach.

Shortly after the charges became public Tuesday, Co submitted a resignation letter to Moreno Valley Mayor Tom Owings. The 4th District councilman submitted his resignation from the seat he won in November 2010, adding, "I wish you and the City continued success and I want the opportunity to thank you and my colleagues...."

Co did not return calls seeking comment. Hall said the welfare fraud charges were not related to the federal probe. Co's home and those of four other council members and the offices of a local developer and a real estate broker were searched April 30 by a joint public corruption task force, whose members include federal and district attorney investigators.

In the welfare fraud case, he is accused of defrauding the In-Home Supportive Services program of $15,000. The program is administered by the county but financed by state and federal agencies. Prosecutors allege Co is listed a provider for his mother and therefore collected income from the program for her care.

But it would have been impossible for Co to care for his mother during certain periods because she was not in the United States, while he was, prosecutors said. Co was taken into custody in the 16500 block of Saddlebrook Lane, a street where his mother, Suan Co, acquired a home in 2010.

The alleged fraud began in March 2010, according to the charges filed Monday. In a declaration for Co's arrest warrant, authorities received an anonymous tip that Suan Co had moved from Moreno Valley to the Philippines, where she was cared for by another son.

Investigators obtained flight records and immigration and customs records for Co and his mother. The records showed she was in the Philippines between March and May 2010 and again between Sept. 10, 2010, and Feb. 13, 2011, and not in his care.

Riverside County Sheriff's Det. Brian Westwood, in seeking the warrant, said Co's ex-girlfriend, Candida Ortega, told him Co was "pocketing the money" and had sent his mother to the Philippines, where his brother and sister constantly complained about Co not sending them money.

An arrest warrant was issued on short notice Monday after investigators cited a potential flight risk for Co because he frequently visits Asia. The Moreno Valley councilman was previously convicted of misdemeanors involving rental property maintenance and sentenced to probation.

Co's arrest came after Moreno Valley's city clerk on Monday approved a recall election for the councilman, who along with his colleagues has come under fire for alleged corruption involving developers and political contributors. The mayor and another council colleague also are the subjects of recall efforts.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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