Arizona lawmaker pleads guilty in corruption case

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona legislator pleaded guilty Friday to two federal felony charges alleging he solicited and accepted a bribe while he was a Tempe city councilman and misled donors about a scholarship fund to benefit his relatives.

Court documents show Rep. Ben Arredondo pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud, the technical charge for bribery that is often used in public corruption cases. That was one of five counts in a May indictment.

He also pleaded guilty to wire fraud for setting up a scholarship fund for his relatives while telling donors it was for "average" youth. That charge was just filed Friday.

The conviction means the Democrat must resign from the Legislature.

The May indictment said Arredondo, 65, solicited about $6,000 in event tickets from representatives of a company doing business with Tempe in 2009 and 2010. The representatives were actually FBI agents.

"You guys will ask, you guys will have," Arredondo told the agents, according to the indictment. He was led to believe the agents were trying to acquire city-owned property.

The other four counts of the indictment will be dismissed under a plea agreement.

The agreement recommends that a federal judge sentence Arredondo to between 27 months and 51 months in prison, depending on adjustments based on federal sentencing guidelines. The plea agreement also suggests the judge consider a request from Arredondo to consider a lighter sentence. The maximum sentence is 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Arredondo also must repay money his relatives used from the scholarship fund. He agreed in the plea agreement that at least $49,750 went to relatives.

He is set to be sentenced in U.S. District Court on Jan. 22.

Arredondo was elected to the Legislature in November 2010 and took office in January 2011 after 16 years on the Tempe City Council. A retired teacher, he previously served on a school board and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

He admitted in his plea that he solicited tickets to sporting and other events and tables at charity events while a councilman and legislator.

During Arredondo's initial court appearance in May, prosecutors disclosed that Arredondo's case is somehow related to other, undisclosed investigations. The U.S. Justice Department did not address the other investigations in a statement announcing the plea.

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