LOS ANGELES – A former official with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and a Koreatown business consultant each pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges today in connection with a long-running scheme where the consultant paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to the ABC official in order to gain an unfair financial advantage for his consultancy company, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
The two men who pleaded guilty before United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt were:
- Wilbur M. Salao, 46 of Bellflower, a 21-year ABC employee who was a district administrator in the Los Angeles Metro ABC office from 2010 until he left the agency in May 2017; and
- Scott Seo, also known as “Seung Hye Seo” and “Scott Hoon Seo,” 49 of San Pedro, who was employed by the ABC for 15 years before starting his consulting company, Alcoholic Beverage Control LLC (ABC LLC) in 2006.
Salao pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, and Seo pleaded guilty to one count of bribery.
According to court documents, Seo admitted paying Salao more than $28,000 in bribes and kickbacks from December 2011 through May 2016. As a long-time ABC official, Salao had the power to award businesses liquor licenses, direct investigations and punish bar owners in the Koreatown neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles.
In return for the bribes – which were usually paid in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 – Salao directed ABC enforcement operations and disciplinary actions against targeted businesses that Seo selected and expedited the liquor licensing process for Seo’s clients. For example, in December 2011, after the ABC raided a Koreatown establishment, Seo charged the business $60,000 in cash, some of which was used to pay Salao, who issued a temporary license that allowed the establishment to continue operating. Seo also admitted that, between 2014 and 2016, he sent Salao lists of businesses for the ABC to target and included suggested violations, such as operating after hours.
Salao also followed Seo’s direction by altering official documents and delaying the liquor licensing process for Seo’s competitors, according to court documents.
Salao also learned of impending enforcement actions in Koreatown by the ABC and the Los Angeles Police Department and provided information to Seo – including a photograph of an undercover LAPD officer. That information allowed Seo to warn his client, which was able to conceal its own separate illegal activity from police.
Salao’s assistance enriched Seo’s consultancy business by at least $60,000, according to Seo’s plea agreement.
Judge Kronstadt is scheduled to sentence Salao on March 28 and Seo on April 4.
At sentencing, Seo will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and Salao will face a sentence of up to five years.