Palm Springs, CA
The other shoe fell in the inland region’s most recent public corruption case last week when after more than a year of investigation into public corruption in the City of Palm Springs, charges were filed against three defendants, including the city’s former mayor, Steve Pougnet and two prominent developers, John Wessman and Richard Meaney.
On September 1, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and seized boxes of potential evidence. Now, Pougnet, Wessman and Meaney face serious charges.
Last Thursday, Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced the charges. “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. “I want to commend the members of the Public Integrity Team here at the DA’s Office, as well as the Inland Regional Corruption Task Force for all their tremendous dedication and exemplary work in this case,” he added.
The complaint included 30 counts that covered all three defendants. It alleged Pougnet received about $375,000 from Meaney and Wessman from 2012 to 2014, in exchange for political support of development projects in the city.
The complaint charges nine counts of accepting a bribe by an executive officer (Penal Code section 68), nine counts of bribing an executive officer (PC section 69), eight counts of conflict of interest (Government Code section 1090), three counts of perjury (PC section 118), and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery (PC section 182).
If convicted as charged, Pougnet would be barred for life from ever holding public office and a potential maximum sentence of 19 years in state prison; while Meaney and Wessman if convicted, face a maximum sentence of 12 years in state prison.
According to investigators assigned to the Riverside District Attorney’s Public Integrity Team who are handling the case, developers Meaney and Wessman allegedly funneled money to Pougnet 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 the city as its 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 Interest (Form 700) documents. Those documents were signed by Pougnet under penalty of perjury.
Meaney and Wessman surrendered to authorities last week and are currently out on bail. Pougnet is expected to appear in court sometime this week.