Palm Springs, CA
Former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet turned himself in Wednesday, about one week after being charged with more than 20 felony counts for allegedly accepting bribes from developers during his mayoral tenure.
Pougnet, 53, is accused, along with developers John Wessman, 79, and Richard Meaney, 51, in a bribery scheme involving $375,000 allegedly paid to the then-mayor in exchange for his votes on Palm Springs development projects, several of which are still pending.
Pougnet surrendered this morning at the county jail in Riverside and was later released on $25,000 bail.
An April 21 arraignment date in Riverside court has been set for Pougnet, who faces up to 19 years in state prison if convicted of accepting bribes, conflict of interest, perjury and conspiracy to commit bribery. He would also be barred from holding public office for life.
Meaney and Wessman both surrendered late last week and posted $25,000 bail. Each developer would face a maximum of 12 years behind bars if convicted of 10 counts of bribing an executive officer and conspiracy to commit bribery.
Wessman is due in court in mid-March, while Meaney’s arraignment is more than two months away.
Meaney and Wessman had stakes in high-dollar development projects that required City Council approval, and the then-mayor became their point man for moving them to ratification, prosecutors allege.
Projects specifically listed in court documents include The Dakota, the Desert Fashion Plaza, The Morrison and Vivante.
Payments to Pougnet were allegedly drawn directly from accounts maintained by Meaney’s Union Abbey Co. and Wessman Development.
Pougnet disclosed that he was paid $200,000 in consulting fees through Union Abbey, but he failed to report other funds that investigators discovered through bank records and emails, according to a declaration in support of an arrest warrant.
Court documents also allege that Pougnet had a conflict of interest in regard to $22,000 he was paid by G & M Construction owner George Marantz, who claimed Pougnet asked him for money on occasion because Pougnet told him he could not “make ends meet” on his mayor’s salary.
Though Pougnet voted in approval of an amended construction contract for Marantz’s Belardo Road Bridge Project, Marantz has not been charged, and the project was only referenced in court documents as an alleged conflict of interest on Pougnet’s part. However, Marantz did say that Pougnet “went to bat” for him regarding the project, according to the document.
Pougnet also allegedly received $12,000 from consulting firm Lucker Anderson, but did not disclose that money as a source of income, according to court documents.
“Our investigation was pretty exhaustive,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in announcing the charges. “There was very strong evidence that Mr. Meaney and Mr. Wessman were buying the mayor’s (vote). They had a lot to gain from his actions on the council.”
According to the criminal complaint filed last Thursday, money began changing hands in September 2012 and continued until the fall of 2014, as Pougnet’s term came to a close. In May 2015, he announced he would not seek re- election.
Four months later, D.A. and FBI investigators began their 17-month investigation with the seizure of thousands of documents, computers, employee cellphones, canceled checks, emails and letters from Palm Springs City Hall and Pougnet’s home.