Investigative

Palm Springs defense attorney shares experience on Colonies case

Attorney shares experience with...

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. - Former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, along with developers Richard Meaney and John Wessman, are expected to be arraigned in an Indio courtroom Friday on multiple bribery and corruption charges. 

The Riverside County District Attorney's Office alleges Pougnet accepted $375,000 in bribes from Meaney and Wessman, in exchange for political influence on city development projects. 

When hired as an attorney for developer Richard Meaney in the Palm Springs corruption case, Pete Scalisi defended a different corruption case. 


    
Scalisi represented former San Bernardino County employee Mark Kirk in the Colonies corruption case in San Bernardino County. 

"This is one of the biggest, the biggest corruption case the District Attorney's Office in San Bernardino County has prosecuted," District Attorney Mike Ramos said in a 2011 news conference when the charges were filed. 
 
It's a case, Scalisi said, that lasted six and a half years. 

"There were over 155,000 pages of documents that the government dumped on us that all the lawyers had to be familiar with," Scalisi said. 
 
Kirk, along with former county employees Paul Biane and James Erwin, and developer Jeffrey Burum, were charged with conflict of interest and bribery. 

Prosecutors alleged Biane, Erwin and Kirk accepted $100,000 from Burum in exchange for influence on a vote for a $102 million settlement with the Colonies development company over flood control improvements. 

Former San Bernardino County Supervisor chairman Bill Postmus accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty in 2011 to multiple felony counts including bribery and misappropriation of public funds.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Office officials said Postmus is expected to be sentenced on October 27. 

After months of testimony, Scalisi said he and other attorneys decided to present no defense.

"We called no witnesses, after the government spent seven and a half months presenting their evidence," Scalisi said. "We all stood up in unison and said, 'We rest.' And the jurors clapped in joy when we did it."
 
After five hours of deliberations, Kirk, Biane and Burum were found not guilty of all charges in August.

Shortly thereafter, a separate jury deadlocked on Erwin, which resulted in a mistrial. 


    
In a statement, Ramos said his office doesn't plan to re-try Erwin. 

"Since the conclusion of jury deliberations, we have carefully evaluated our current position and have identified witness problems that cannot be resolved," Ramos said in a statement following the mistrial. "As a result, we are unable to proceed." 
    
Scalisi said witnesses played a key role.

"There were many government witnesses who testified during the course of the trial that I didn't even have to ask them a single question," Scalisi said. "A vast majority of these government witnesses had nothing, except good things to say about Mark Kirk."

Now heading into the Palm Springs corruption case, Scalisi said both cases can't be compared, with each case being different. 

"You can't simply like try to apply a similar template, if you will, onto cases," Scalisi said. "You sort of have to take each one on its own, and start fresh."

John Wessman's attorney, David Greenberg, released this statement regarding the result of the Colonies case: 

"We are glad to have seen justice prevail in the Colonies case, and we are expecting the same outcome in ours," Greenberg said. 

While he couldn't comment on the colonies case, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin released this statement on the Palm Springs case: 

"We simply cannot tolerate corruption in government at any level," Hestrin said. "The people of Palm Springs are entitled to and should expect fair, open and honest government in their city."

Pougnet, Meaney and Wessman are expected to appear at the Larson Justice Center at 8:30 a.m. Friday. 

Stay with KESQ and CBS Local 2 for the latest updates regarding the Palm Springs corruption case. 


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