Indictment handed down in alleged bribery case at City Hall

A Grand Jury indictment has been handed down in the case against former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and a pair of developers.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced the indictment today following years of delays. Pougnet, along with developers Richard Meaney and John Wessman, were charged in 2017 with bribery, perjury and conflict of interest. The case centers around alleged payments from the developers to Pougnet of at least $375,000 to buy votes and influence projects in downtown Palm Springs.

According to Hestrin, developers Meaney and Wessman secretly funneled money to Pougnet between 2012 and 2014 in order to buy his influence. At that time, both developers had a number of significant, lucrative development projects before the City Council . 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. The 30-count indictment, which was returned Thursday, includes nine counts for 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.

Arraignment is expected Sept. 12. If convicted, Pougnet could face up to 19 years in state prison and be barred for life from holding public office. Meaney and Wessman could each face a prison sentence of 12 years.

After a series of delays in trying to conduct a preliminary hearing, the District Attorney’s Office determined that an indictment would be the best method to move the case forward toward seeking justice for the community of Palm Springs. Consequently, the District Attorney’s Office opted to proceed by grand jury indictment rather than conduct a preliminary hearing.

In a joint statement released this morning, the Palm Springs City Council praised the DA’s office while also noting no other city officials or staff were found to have been involved in the case.

“The Grand Jury came to the same conclusion that the
District Attorney previously came to,” the statement read. “As
a result, 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.”