Attorneys to hunt dismissal on Friday

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Developers John Wessman (left), Richard Meaney (center), and former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet (right) were indicted at the Larson Justice Center in Indio on Thursday, September 12, 2019.  Wessman, Meaney and Pougnet, who were charged in a bribery and corruption case, each pleaded not guilty.

Attorneys for former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and two Coachella Valley developers accused of buying his vote are expected to argue in court Friday that the crime charges against their clients should be dismissed.

The hearing will take place on Friday afternoon at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.

Pougnet, 57, and developers Richard Meaney, 54, and John Wessman, 82, were indicted on August 15, 2019 after the case was brought to a grand jury by the Riverside County Attorney’s Office.

Pougnet faces 21 criminal offenses, including perjury, corruption and public conspiracy, while Meaney and Wessman have been charged with multiple bribes of an official and conspiracy.

Prosecutors claim Pougnet put a total of $ 375,000 in pocket between 2012 and 2014 to vote in favor of certain development projects before the Palm Springs City Council.

Palm Springs corruption suspects, from left: developer John Wessman, developer Richard Meaney, former Mayor Steve Pougnet.

Payments to Pougnet were allegedly drawn directly from accounts held by Meaneys Union Abbey Co. and Wessman Development and others associated with the developers.

Riverside County Supreme Court Justice Harold Hopp unsealed more than 700 pages of grand jury transcripts in March, revealing several new aspects of the case.

The prosecution informed the grand jury that Pougnet was planning to move to Colorado to join his husband and two children when his first term ended in 2011. However, the two developers allegedly put him “on their payroll” to get his votes for their projects.

The trio’s defense lawyers had attempted to have the transcripts, which contained the testimony of 13 witnesses, sealed until the end of the trial, on the grounds that coverage of the material could affect the defendants’ chances of a fair trial.

“This is a case of political corruption in the city of Palm Springs,” Amy Barajas, assistant district attorney for Riverside County, told 19 major jurors last August. “What kind of corruption? Well, one of the oldest stories in the book. Some wealthy real estate developers get a politician on their payroll and in return they get cheap treatment, internal access, and big contracts.”

John Wessman, left, and Rich Meaney.

According to prosecutors, Pougnet was reluctant to stay in Palm Springs and seek another term as mayor. On May 30, 2011, Barajas presented the Grand Jury with an email exchange between Meaney and Pougnet in which Meaney wrote: “Everything is there. The big question of everyone … is what are your plans? ”

Pougnet’s answer to the question seemed to suggest that their relationship depends on Pougnet securing a legitimate, literal job.

“I need to know that an offer is very real, that I’m an employee somewhere with an employment letter,” Pougnet wrote back. “That will make a decision a lot easier.” As you know, a month ago this wasn’t even an option on the table for me and Christopher (his husband). Staying (in Palm Springs) has tremendous family implications considering I would go back and forth. ”

The two later agreed to a $ 225,000 sum, as Barajas had read when she questioned FBI special agent Doris H. Webster before the grand jury.

“$ 225,000. If I know exactly what it is, I’ll sit down with Christopher and we’ll make a decision,” Pougnet wrote back after Meaney offered him $ 220,000 to “stay in the city of Palm Springs.”

The e-mail passages read by the public prosecutor did not contain an admission by Pougnet that the agreed money was exchanged for something special.

The men are free.

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