RIVERSIDE, Calif. - UPDATE: 6:49 p.m.
One year, five months and 15 days after federal and regional agents raided Palm Springs City Hall, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced bribery charges against former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, and developers Richard Meaney and John Wessman.
“It was buying of influence,” Hestrin said. “This large amount of money was paid to the Mayor of Palm Springs for his influence on the city council, and off the city council.”
Hestrin said the complaint filed Thursday by the District Attorney’s Office included 30 counts of bribery, alleging Pougnet received about $375,000 from Meaney and Wessman from 2012 to 2014, in exchange for political support of development projects in the city.
“It's not just one deal, we're talking about multiple land deals, [and] development deals,” Hestrin said. “He [Pougnet] sat on commissions that dealt with these developments, and these two individuals [Meaney and Wessman] had a lot to gain.”
The District Attorney said the payments made to Pougnet were hardly concealed.
“Some of these companies that we’re talking about are shell companies,” Hestrin said. “Their payments run through shell companies or fake organizations, and then paid to the Mayor. Its pretty brazen and pretty obvious once you scratch the surface.”
As the investigation continues, Hestrin said he hoped the lesson gained is the need for complete transparency in local government.
“Everybody deserves fair, open and honest government,” Hestrin said. “They have to be held to a high standard. They sought office, and it's supposed to be for the good of the public. Not to enrich themselves.”
Hestrin said federal charges could still be filed by federal investigators.
He also said current Palm Springs city leaders, including Mayor Robert Moon, have been very cooperative in this investigation.
He said Pougnet, Meaney and Wessman are cooperating, and plan to surrender themselves within the next few days.
District Attorney’s Office officials said all three men are expected to be arraigned in court next week.
If convicted, Pougnet could face up to 19 years in state prison, and be banned for life from ever holding public office again.
Both Meaney and Wessman each face up to 12 years in state prison.
Stay with KESQ and CBS Local 2 for the latest updates on the Palm Springs corruption case.
ORIGINAL STORY: 3:36 p.m.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced the filing of charges against three men in the public corruption case involving an estimated $375,000 in bribes paid to former mayor of Palm Springs, Steve Pougnet.
DA Hestrin said former Palm Springs mayor Steve Pougnet, and developers Richard Meaney and John Wessman, are all facing possible charges. Meaney and Wessman are developers in the Palm Springs area.
"We simply cannot tolerate corruption in government at any level," DA Hestrin said Thursday morning. "The people of Palm Springs are entitled to and should expect fair, open and honest government in their city."
The criminal complaint filed Thursday includes 30 total counts covering all three defendants. The complaint charges nine counts of accepting a bribe by an executive officer, nine counts of bribing an executive officer, eight counts of conflict of interest, three counts of perjury, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
All three defendants are expected to surrender themselves to the court within the next few days, according to the DA's release.
If convicted as currently charged, Pougnet would be barred for life from ever holding public office and would face a potential maximum sentence of 19 years in state prison. If Meaney and Wessman are convicted as charged, they face a potential maximum sentence of 12 years in state prison, according to the district attorney's office.
Arraignment dates for each of the suspects will be scheduled soon.
The news release states the evidence obtained during the investigation, giving a synopsis of the case:
- Developers Meaney and Wessman secretly funneled money to Pugnet when he was the mayor of Palm Springs over the years 2012 through 2014 in order to buy his influence.
- At the time, both developers had a number of significant and lucrative development projects that were before the Palm Springs City Council.
- Pougnet, while serving Palm Springs as mayor, voted on a number of projects in which he had a financial interest over that same timeframe.
- During that time, Pougnet never disclosed those financial interests on any of his Statement of Economic Interet documents, which he signed under penalty of perjury.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy DAs Amy Barajas and Emily Hanks of the DA's Public Integrity Team.
KESQ News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 were at the news conference in Riverside Thursday morning, and we've been tracking the corruption case since it was first launched in September of 2015.
We'll keep you updated as the three defendants make it to court.