After saying he was “deeply apologetic” for taking bribes while on the Colton City Council, Donald Sanders was sentenced Monday to 17 days in jail and $45,000 in restitution and fines.
“I’ve been ashamed, absolutely been ashamed,” Sanders told U.S. District Judge James V. Selna at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana.
Sanders’ sentencing closes the federal government’s chapter in a wide-ranging corruption probe that began in the late 1990s and ensnared high-ranking city and county officials in San Bernardino County. The last major figure, Orange County businessman William “Shep” McCook, awaits trial on state bribery charges.
“I think you are truly remorseful,” Selna told Sanders as the former councilman’s wife and three children watched. But he added that “breaches of public trust will not be tolerated.”
Sanders will pay $40,000 to the city of Colton and a $5,000 federal fine. His jail sentence begins Friday, though Selna offered to postpone it so Sanders could spend the holidays with his family.
The former councilman received three years’ probation, including five months of home detention, and is allowed to travel only for work. He could have been sentenced to as many as five years in prison.
In addition, Sanders has been ordered to pay more than $66,000 as part of a civil suit that the city of Colton filed against key figures in a billboard scam.
Colton City Manager Daryl Parrish on Monday called the corruption scandal “very traumatic” for the city.
“It shakes you to the marrow when public trust is violated so many times by so many public officials,” he said. “We’re focusing on the future, not on our past.”
Sanders’ attorney, Winston McKesson, said his client’s punishment was fair but argued that Sanders should receive a sentence similar to that of former San Bernardino County administrator James Hlawek, a key player in the corruption scandal who was sentenced to three years’ probation and community service.
Hlawek admitted accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and later helped investigators unveil other corruption schemes, including the one in Colton. He was sentenced last month by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder.
Sanders resigned from the City Council in 2001, shortly after admitting he had accepted cash payments in exchange for supporting a billboard project. In 2003, the case against Sanders and two other players in the billboard scheme was dismissed.
Later that year, Sanders pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with a different plot, the charge for which he was sentenced Monday.
Sanders admitted to accepting cash payments to vote in favor of an exclusive contract for Suncrest Homes to market and sell mobile homes at the city-owned Rancho Mediterrania Mobile Home Park.
Suncrest had paid former Colton Mayor Abe Beltran “consulting fees,” some of which he funneled to Sanders, chairman of the city’s redevelopment agency.
Beltran was sentenced to 15 months in prison, and Suncrest general manager Michael L. Berg was sentenced to six months.
Sanders told investigators about other bribery rackets and gave them some of the bribe money he had received to be used as evidence, according to a motion filed by the U.S. attorney’s office. He also made 87 tape recordings of conversations for investigators, the document states.