Camp Pendleton ‘Godfather’ arrested for accepting a bribe he couldn’t refuse

OCEANSIDE — FBI agents arrested a Department of Defense official on March 28, for allegedly demanding bribes for multi-million dollar construction contracts at Camp Pendleton. 

 

Natividad Lara Cervantes, who reportedly referred to himself as the “Godfather at Camp Pendleton,” was arrested for demanding and agreeing to receive $40,000 in cash in return for awarding a $4 million flooring contract at Camp Pendleton, according to the federal court complaint.

According to the complaint, an unidentified cooperating witness revealed to an FBI agent in November 2012 that Cervantes had used his position as Facilities Support Contracts Manager to extort bribes from him/her since 2008 for contracts at the Marine base in Oceanside.

The witness stated that between 2008 and 2010 he/she had paid Cervantes about $20,000 to keep Camp Pendleton construction contracts. Later Cervantes demanded $5,000 for a contract in 2011, saying he had the power to “make the project go smoothly or badly for (the witness’s) business,” according to statements in the complaint.

Cervantes also supposedly pressured the witness to complete renovation work on his downtown condo for free and also hire his granddaughter at the witness’s company, the complaint stated.

In total, the witness’s business obtained 15 contracts or task orders at Camp Pendleton since 2008, according to the complaint.

In late March, the witness in collaboration with federal agents recorded a conversation with Cervantes in which Cervantes asked for $40,000 in exchange for the flooring contract. Because Cervantes did not have the power to directly award the contract, he called the official who was in charge of the contract during the meeting. Cervantes requested that the official “do her magic” to ensure that the witness’s business be granted the job.

Cervantes and the witness agreed to meet on March 28 at Churchill Cigar Lounge on Miramar Road for the witness to give Cervantes the first portion of the bribe in cash.

The witness partially recorded the meeting as well. Upon leaving the lounge, federal agents arrested Cervantes with the envelope of cash in his hands.

Cervantes was released from San Diego’s Metropolitan Correctional Facility after posting $20,000 in bail on April 1.

The primary hearing in this case will be conducted at the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California in San Diego April 12.

This is the second incident of alleged criminal activity by Camp Pendleton staff this year. In January, three Camp Pendleton employees were indicted for stealing expensive medical equipment that was intended to ship to Marines in combat zones.

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