Appeals Court overturns judge’s decision to drop charges against developer in former Palm Springs mayor’s bribery case

California’s 4th District Court of Appeals overturned a judge’s decision to drop charges against one of the developers charged in the bribery case of a former Palm Springs mayor.

On December 4, a judge dismissed the charges against real estate developer John Wessman. Wessman was initially charged with nine counts, eight of bribery of an officer and one count of conspiracy to commit a felony.

News Channel 3 has obtained Court of Appeal documents showing that the order to drop charges against Wessman has been overturned.

Based on our independent review of the record, we conclude that the evidence presented to the grand jury was sufficient to support the indictment and that the other grounds for confirmation of the order suggested by the defendant are not supported by the case. Accordingly, we set aside the order granting the defendant’s motion to quash the indictment.

– 4th District Court of Appeals

“We are pleased with the decision of the appeals court,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “Based on all the evidence, we believe the appeals court ruled correctly and that a jury should decide the outcome of the case.”

The case will now return to trial court with all three defendants ready to stand trial, according to the district attorney’s office. Pougnet and Meaney were scheduled to hold a pre-trial conference on June 24.

Wessman was charged along with former Palm Springs mayor Pougnet, 58, and developer Richard Hugh Meaney, 55, on August 15, 2019, after the case was presented to a grand jury by the district attorney’s office. Riverside County.

See our “City Hall Scandal” section for more coverage on this case.

Prosecutors alleged that Pougnet pocketed a total of $375,000 between 2012 and 2014 to vote favorably on certain development projects when they were presented to the Palm Springs City Council.

Payments to Pougnet were reportedly taken directly from accounts maintained by Meaney’s Union Abbey Co. and Wessman Development Inc., and others connected to the developers.

“This is a case of political corruption in the city of Palm Springs,” Riverside County Assistant District Attorney Amy Barajas told 19 grand 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 exchange they get favorable treatment, inside access and large contracts.”

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

Prosecutors told the grand jury that Pougnet planned to move to Colorado to join her husband and two children at the end of his first term in 2011, but the two promoters allegedly put him off. "on their payroll" in order to secure his votes on their projects.

According to the prosecutor, Pougnet was hesitant about remaining in Palm Springs and seeking another term as mayor. Barajas presented to the grand jury an email exchange from May 30, 2011, between Meaney and Pougnet, in which Meaney wrote, “Everything is in place. Everyone’s big question… is what are your plans?”

Defense attorneys for the trio had sought to have the transcripts, which include testimony from 13 witnesses, sealed until the end of the trial, arguing that reporting on the material might taint the defendants' chances of getting a fair trial.

Read: (2/26/21) Co-defendant in Palm Springs bribery case to get his passport back, with conditions

Pougnet faces 21 counts, including perjury, public bribery and conspiracy, while Meaney was charged with multiple counts of bribing a public official and conspiracy.

If found guilty, Pougnet could face more than 19 years in prison and would be banned from holding public office again.

Meaney and Wessman could face 12 years behind bars.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continued updates on this case.

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About Jessica J. Bass

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