Update: May 16, 2012, 7:37 PM
A three-year undercover FBI operation has nabbed an Arizona Democrat who allegedly accepted thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets to sporting and charity events in exchange for advancing the interests of a fake real estate company in Tempe.
Ben Arredondo, 63, was charged by a federal grand jury with bribery, fraud, attempted extortion and making false statements to FBI agents. The Republican-turned-Democrat allegedly received over $6,000 in tickets when he was a member of the Tempe City Council and member-elect of the Arizona House.
The indictment brought swift calls for Arredondo to resign. Sen. David Schapira, the top Democrat in the state Senate, put out a statement after the news hit: “The Department of Justice allegations against him are deeply troubling and, whether he is guilty or innocent, will pose too great a distraction for him to fulfill the duties of his office.”
As part of the sting, the FBI bought tables at charity events and tickets to Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks games on Arredondo’s behalf. In June 2010, Arredondo allegedly told the undercover FBI agent working for “Company A” to mail 18 Diamondbacks tickets, worth about $2,400, to his home to “make it a lot easier” for him.
In exchange for the tickets, the feds allege that Arredondo set up meetings between Tempe city officials and gave them inside information on how to maximize their chances of buying city-owned property.
Prior to one April 2010 meeting, Arredondo allegedly spelled out his relationship with the real estate company in clear terms. “You guys will ask, you guys will have. I don’t know how else to say it,” he allegedly said. “We’ll be just fine because not only we’re covered at the city, we’re covered now at the state,” referring to his state House seat.
A few months before his 2010 election to the Arizona House, Arredondo set up a meeting between a “Company A” representative, two other council members and a Tempe council member-elect to help the company advance their real estate plan, according to the indictment. The case appears to have languished without much activity until Jan. 17, 2012, when Arredondo allegedly lied to FBI agents interviewing him about his role in the scheme.
This isn’t the first time tickets to sporting events have landed Arredondo in hot water. He was one of about 30 lawmakers investigated but ultimately cleared by state prosecutors last year for taking tickets and other gifts from the Fiesta Bowl, one of the biggest college football games in the nation.
Arredondo was one of the largest recipients of gifts from the bowl. According to the Arizona Republic, he accepted more than $4,000 in tickets and $2,000 in donations from the bowl from 2001 through 2009. Meanwhile, he helped the organization that ran the bowl obtain a $6.45 million subsidy from Tempe.
Additional reporting by Nick Martin.