More charges: Five Antioch, Pittsburg cops allegedly accepted bribes, including tequila, to make traffic tickets go away

More charges: Five Antioch, Pittsburg cops allegedly accepted bribes, including tequila, to make traffic tickets go away

New charging documents emerging from the sprawling corruption investigation of Antioch and Pittsburg police officers reveal the alleged cost of fixing a traffic ticket in parts of East Contra Costa County: a few $30 bottles of tequila.

The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office has charged five police officers in those two cities in a purported conspiracy to drop traffic tickets in exchange for bribes of food and liquor, Friday court filings show.

Former Antioch police Officer Timothy Manly Williams faces felony counts of conspiracy to commit an act injurious to public and taking a bribe for — among other incidents — allegedly accepting Teremana tequila for his help in making a traffic ticket go away.

The tequila made its way to Antioch patrol Officer Andrea Rodriguez, who agreed to skip a court appearance in a traffic case Nov. 2, 2020, apparently causing the ticket being dismissed, the documents say.

Rodriguez is charged with conspiracy and accepting a bribe for her role, and Antioch patrol Officer Calvin Prieto faces the same charges for another incident. Prosecutors also filed conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges against Manly Williams, Antioch officer Ben Padilla, and former Pittsburg Officer Ernesto Mejia-Orozco.

The officers are scheduled to appear in court for arraignment Sept. 13, according to online court records. It was not immediately clear whether they had retained attorneys.

District Attorney Diana Becton issued a written statement Friday calling the alleged offenses acts of “public corruption.”

“My role is to seek justice and work on solutions to improve our communities,” Becton said. “The legal action we’ve taken here today reflects that commitment.”

Friday’s charges add to the litany of shame emerging from an 18-month, FBI-led corruption probe, which culminated  Thursday in the federal indictment of 10 people, including five Antioch police officers, four Pittsburg police officers and an Antioch community services officer. Their alleged crimes ranged from police violence, to college credit scams, to steroid distribution. A single indictment charged Manly Williams with obstructing a murder investigation.

During the probe, investigators discovered both incriminating and racist text messages between Antioch officers, including by Prieto and Rodriguez, who talked of disproportionately targeting Black people for citations, according to documents previously released by the Contra Costa DA’s office. In one exchange, the two discussed impounding cars and wanting to “make n—as eat s—,” according to the report.

According to figures in the report, Prieto issued 107 citations from Sept. 9, 2020, to Oct. 8, 2020. About 30% were issued to Black people. Rodriguez issued 114 citations in the same time frame. About 27 percent were issued to Black people. Black people comprised about 20 percent of Antioch’s population in 2022.

The new bribery case alleges that Manly Williams was the catalyst for incidents where tickets were set aside, authorities say. The tequila incident began when he allegedly texted Prieto on Oct. 2, 2020, looking for Rodriguez’s help on a traffic case.

“Yoo (sic) this dude hit me up and said he will pay Rodriguez $300 not to show up to traffic court,” Manly Williams said in a text to Prieto, according to the documents. Prieto allegedly sought Rodriguez’s cooperation, and then texted Manly Williams back, saying Rodriguez was willing to skip her court appearance.

“She said she won’t show up,” Prieto allegedly said in a text. “And that there’s no obligation to a bottle. But if one randomly appears she’ll take it.”

An uncharged member of the alleged conspiracy then purchased three bottles of Teremana tequila as a payment to Rodriguez, authorities allege. Teremana tequila – the brand founded by actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – currently sells at local retail stores for $29.99 to $33.99, depending on whether it’s Reposado or silver.

In a separate incident on April 13, 2021, Manly Williams allegedly texted Padilla about a ticket issued to a man who owned a local liquor store, right after Manly Williams and Mejia-Orozco had discussed it.

“He owns the liquor store where the guys grab there (sic) drinks and snacks,” Manly Williams allegedly wrote in a text. “The officer said he would get you a good lunch if you were able to take care of it.”

Later that day, Padilla asked a lieutenant in the department for permission to remove the ticket, according to multiple law enforcement sources. Then he followed up with Manly Williams about it, according to the criminal complaint.

“Let your boy know that he can tell Abdul that the ticket will be cancelled,” Padilla allegedly wrote. “He will not have to worry about it.”