The self-proclaimed “Godfather of Camp Pendleton,” a Pentagon employee who supervised construction and service contracts, pleaded guilty to bribery and kickback charges after an FBI sting that also swept up six government contractors and two corporations.
Natividad “Nate” Lara Cervantes admitted taking bribes, as early as 2008, from companies looking to do business on the Marine base near San Diego. He copped to accepting $25,000 that year and $95,000 between then and 2011 in exchange for steering a combined $10.5 million worth of service contracts to Hugo Alonso Inc. (HAI) and MBR Associates, Inc. (MBRA).
Cervantes reportedly told people that he controlled the area at Camp Pendleton where contractors set up their trailers and used it to favor those who favored him. A witness told investigators that Cervantes also took bribes for giving “outstanding” evaluations to contractors.
The first bribe Cervantes admitted was in exchange for helping HAI land a $3.5 million contract to install flooring at the base. The company touts on its website repairs it did to the base that included “demolition, structural repairs, mechanical, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire protection, telecommunications, flooring, wall covering, painting, drywall, framing, lighting, acoustical ceiling panels, bathroom accessories, and door and hardware replacement.”
The company received an “Outstanding Performance Evaluation” from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) for that work.
The last bribe Cervantes admitted to took place March 26, 2013, when the FBI monitored a cooperating witness agreeing to give him $40,000 in exchange for a $4 million contract. Two days later, Cervantes was arrested when he accepted the first $10,000 of the bribe and laid out a payment schedule for the rest.
The bribery schemes were supplemented with “a vast scheme” of kickbacks engineered by HAI boss Hugo Hernandez Alonso and MBR CEO Bayani Yabut Abueg, Jr., according to the FBI. Abueg, as a representative of HAI and MBR, received more than $539,000 in kickbacks from various subcontractors, some of which was paid for by inflated contracts, which he shared with his son and daughter. Some of the kickbacks involved subcontractors doing discounted work on the private residences of Abueg, his relatives and Cervantes.
Alonso and Abueg pleaded guilty to paying bribes involving the awarding of at least six government contracts, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office. They and their companies also pleaded guilty to soliciting and accepting kickbacks. Abueg also pleaded guilty to filing false income tax returns for 2010 to hide $268,000 worth of the illegal payments.