Trial is scheduled to begin right now in federal court in Santa Ana for a Tustin criminal defense attorney accused of conspiring with a Rialto police officer to fix a misdemeanor assault and battery case at John Wayne Airport. Lawrence Witsoe is charged with conspiracy to solicit and receive a bribe by a public official, offering and giving a bribe to a public official and witness tampering for allegedly persuading a client to lie to federal investigators and destroy evidence.
Wayne Gillis of Arizona was involved in a physical altercation at John Wayne Airport in March 2009 and later charged in Orange County Superior Court with misdemeanor assault and battery. Gillis hired Witsoe to represent him.
In September 2009, Witsoe allegedly solicited a $1,000 bribe from Gillis for Rialto cop Aaron Scott Vigil, who at the time was assigned to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task force in Riverside. Vigil called Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) prosecutors to ask for leniency for Gillis, falsely claiming he was a confidential informant for the DEA.
Witsoe solicited a $2,500 bribe from Gillis in November 2009 to get the case plea bargained down or dismissed, according to federal prosecutors. But, as City News Service reports, Gillis was by then cooperating with the FBI, which secretly recorded his telephone conversation with Witsoe.
When OCDA prosecutors began probing for more details of Gillis' confidential informant status, Witsoe had his client destroy emails and lie to investigators, according to federal prosecutors.
Told falsely by Vigil that Gillis had supplied information that led to the DEA seizing $10,000 in drug money, the OCDA dismissed the misdemeanor case against Gillis, the feds allege.
Vigil, who is standing trial alongside Witsoe, is charged with solicitation and acceptance of a bribe by a public official. My former colleague Josh Dulaney wrote about a separate case that alleged Vigil made threats against a captain and a lieutenant in his own Rialto Police Department.