SACRAMENTO, CA - A key player in a Sacramento city utilities corruption scandal has pleaded guilty to paying bribes to city employees in return for taking old water meters to sell for scrap metal.
The guilty pleas came in Sacramento's federal court from Sheldon L. Morris, 76, a Novato businessman. Prosecutors allege he paid more than $200,000 in bribes to city utility workers in Sacramento, Sonoma and San Francisco over a period of almost 10 years.
In return, Morris was allowed to take old water meters he then sold to recyclers, prosecutors said. He kept part of the money he made, putting the rest into a secret "slush fund" he used to pay bribes and buy favors for the employees.
"It is a significant corruption case," said federal prosecutor Robert Tice-Raskin. "He was busy greasing the palms of multiple employees throughout California."
Morris pleaded guilty to two bribery counts in a plea deal with federal prosecutors. He agreed to pay more than $186,000 in restitution to the three cities involved. The restitution includes $22,450 to the City of Sacramento, $144,030 to the City of Sonoma and $19,763 to the City of San Francisco. That money is some of what the cities would've rightfully collected by recycling the meters.
"Money that should've been going to the coffers of those municipalities was not making its way where it belonged, but rather was making it to the pockets of corrupt employees," said Tice-Raskin.
Morris is also promised a recommendation of no more than two years, nine months in prison. Under federal law, the two counts could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The federal government is involved because the bribes involved cities which receive federal funds. It was a multi-year investigation, for a scheme apparently beginning as early as 2000.
"Sometimes if you're clever, sometimes if you're smart, you can keep things like this under wraps for quite some time," said Tice-Raskin.
"Part of the investigation involved a Sacramento art whistleblower identified as "Mike M.," who wore a wire to help law enforcement obtain evidence. Prosecutors say the informant worked for the Sacramento City utilities division and was never a suspect in the case. "He's a concerned citizen who did the right thing," said the prosecutor.
A retired Sacramento water distribution superintendent, Barry Holland, has already pleaded guilt to accepting bribes from Morris. Another fired city worker, Kenneth John Guerard, has just been arraigned in state court on bribery charges. He's indicated he'll fight the charges.
Morris remains free on his own recognizance and is scheduled to return for sentencing in October.