A criminal indictment against former mayor of Palm Springs Steve Pougnet and two real estate developers was announced on Friday, August 16 by Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. The original criminal complaint listed felony charges against Pougnet for accepting bribes totaling $375,000 in exchange for favorable decisions for the two property agents while on the city dais.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin said his office is moving forward with the indictment after a series of delays took place in trying to conduct a hearing.
The 30-count indictment, includes 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.
Pougnet was indicted on 21 counts and Meaney and Wessman were each indicted on 10 counts.
“This is the best method to move this case forward and seek justice for the community of Palm Springs,” said officials from the District Attorney’s Office.
Richard Hugh Meaney and John Elroy Wessman, the two developers indicted along with Pougnet are ordered to appear for arraignment in Riverside County Superior Court on Sept. 12, 2019.
Meaney and Elroy funneled money to the former mayor between 2012 and 2014 in an effort to buy his influence.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, during these years both developers had a number of significant, lucrative development projects before the City Council of Palm Springs. Pougnet, who was the mayor at the time, voted on a number of projects in which he had a financial interest over the same timeframe. Pougnet failed to disclose those financial interests on his Statements of Economic Interest [Form 700] which were signed under penalty of perjury.
The current Mayor of Palm Springs, Robert Moon said on behalf of the city council, “As a result of this indictment, a trial should now proceed more expeditiously through our criminal justice system and continuous delays will cease. No other individuals, including city staff, were found by either the District Attorney or the Grand Jury to have committed wrongdoing. Each of us was elected after the events that led to the indictments occurred and we are proud of the work our council, staff and resident led Task Force have done to enact and implement new, ethics and transparency laws and policies that far exceed the requirements of state and federal law, making Palm Springs a leader in open government.”
The actions by Pougnet, Wessman and Meaney could have endangered the Downtown Palm Springs Redevelopment Project estimated to be worth $500-million to $1- billion.
Chapter 11 of the California Political Reform Act reads, “If it is ultimately determined that a violation has occurred and that the official action might not otherwise would have been taken or approved, the court may set the official action aside as void.”
If convicted as currently charged, Pougnet would be barred for life from ever holding public office and faces a potential maximum sentence of more than 19 years in state prison. If convicted as currently charged, Wessman and Meaney each face a potential maximum sentence of 12 years in state prison.