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Ex-Palm Springs mayor, 2 developers charged with corruption

Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- The former mayor of Palm Springs and two major developers in the city were charged Thursday with public corruption and other felonies in a scheme that netted the one-time city leader $375,000 in bribes, according to the Riverside County district attorney.

Former Mayor Steve Pougnet, 53, and developers Richard Meaney, 51, and John Wessman, 78, were charged with a combined 30 felony counts of corruption, including paying and accepting bribes, conflict of interest, perjury and conspiracy to commit bribery. Pougnet served as mayor for eight years before announcing in 2015 that he would not seek re-election.

Pougnet faces up 19 years in prison while the two developers face up to 12 years in prison.

"We simply cannot tolerate corruption in government at any level," District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at a news conference. "With all bribery it was about buying influence."

Wessman, the city's biggest developer, along with Meaney paid bribes to gain massive influence in city hall and beyond, Hestrin said.

"This was a bribe and not just business," the prosecutor said. "It was pretty brazen and it was pretty obvious."

The trio are expected to surrender within a week.

Hestrin said money was funneled to the former mayor through several shell companies from September 2012 to September 2014

The charges come 17 months after investigators from the FBI and Riverside County district attorney's office seized documents from city hall and the mayor's home as part of a public corruption investigation.

The Sept. 1, 2015, raids came after a series of stories in the Desert Sun newspaper showed that Pougnet while mayor worked as a consultant for Meaney when he voted to sell city property to the developer and another investor.

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