Former Opa-locka Commissioner Luis Santiago admitted Tuesday that he plotted with other top officials and employees to pocket up to $40,000 in bribes in a scheme that shook down several local business owners and corrupted nearly every level of the city’s financially troubled government.
In an effort to reduce his prison time, Santiago pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to accept multiple bribes and extort businesses seeking city licenses, water connections and zoning permits — an offense that will likely put him behind bars for more than three years under a plea agreement.
Santiago, 55, who otherwise would have faced up to five years under the bribery law, acknowledged to a Miami federal judge that he wanted to accept responsibility for his crime.
“I think that’s the best way to go,” said Santiago, who was flanked by his defense attorney, Roderick Vereen.
Santiago, the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the still-widening FBI probe of Opa-locka City Hall corruption, will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams on March 30. Santiago, who remains free on bail until then, is not assisting authorities in the investigation.
Santiago lost his city commission seat in November after a series of Miami Herald stories reported that he was the main target of the probe of an alleged extortion scheme involving payoffs for official favors. The one-term commissioner, who surrendered to FBI agents in late December on the bribery charge, is the only politician to be convicted so far.
Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff