A Riverside County Superior Court judge has approved a venue change for all future hearings related to the bribery case involving former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and two Coachella Valley developers, who will make their next court appearances at the Larson Justice Center in Indio on June 30th.
The District Attorney’s Office has also submitted an amended complaint with an additional felony against Pougnet.
Pougnet, 53, is charged with 21 counts, including corruption by a public official and perjury. His co-defendants, 51-year-old Richard Hugh Meaney and 79-year-old John Elroy Wessman, are each charged with nine counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy.
The three are slated to jointly appear this afternoon before Riverside County Superior Court Samuel Diaz at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Charges were filed against the trio in February, and all have made court appearances since then. However, the District Attorney’s Office wanted to consolidate the men’s arraignments, as well as future hearings, to avoid scattered scheduling. Each defendant is free on $25,000 bail.
On Feb. 16, District Attorney Mike Hestrin detailed some of the findings from an 18-month investigation conducted by D.A.’s office personnel and FBI agents.
Hestrin alleged that money trails were uncovered going back to September 2012, with “very strong evidence” that Meaney and Wessman were buying the mayor’s votes.
According to the criminal complaint, money allegedly changed hands until the fall of 2014, as Pougnet’s term came to a close. He did not seek re-election. Hestrin alleged that bribes paid to the mayor totaled $375,000.
The investigation revealed that Meaney and Wessman had stakes in high- dollar development projects that required council approval, and the then-mayor became their point man for moving them to ratification, according to the prosecution.
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., along with Wessman Development Inc., according to court papers.
Hestrin said the public integrity and influence-peddling probe benefited from statements provided by several unnamed “whistleblowers.”
The county’s top prosecutor hoped that the case would underscore the need for “fair, open and honest government.”
If convicted, Pougnet could face up to 19 years in state prison, while Meaney and Wessmanm could each face a maximum 12 years behind bars.