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Former California mayor agrees to plead guilty for marijuana-related bribery

Richard Kerr is the second public official in Adelanto to be accused and convicted of marijuana-related bribery.

(CN) — Former Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr will plead guilty to one federal wire fraud charge for accepting more than $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for handing out licenses and permits for commercial marijuana activities.

Kerr served as mayor of Adelanto, a small high-desert city in Southern California, from 2015 to 2018. After California legalized marijuana in 2016, Kerr was an enthusiastic supporter of the selling and growing of pot in the most commercially friendly way possible. The town of about 30,000, whose economy had previously been dominated by two private prisons, made headlines for trying to become the "Silicon Valley of medical marijuana," a term Kerr himself came up with.

But the "green rush" became less known for innovation and more for public corruption. In 2021, former Adelanto Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright was convicted on charges of accepting a $10,000 cash bribe from an undercover agent posing as a marijuna businessman, as well as trying to burn down his own restaurant in order to collect insurance money. Wright was sentenced to five years in a federal prison.

In contrast with Wright's indictment, which spun a long, colorful yarn of informants, brazen small-time bribery and a sad, desperate attempt pay someone to assault him, Kerr's indictment filed in 2021 had precious little in the way of details regarding Kerr's crimes.

The former mayor had two "co-schemers," known in the plea deal and in Kerr's 2021 indictment as "Person A," a plaintiff-side tort attorney, and "Person C," a local businessman whose interests included marijuana cultivation. The two men would, according to the plea deal, give Kerr cash and checks disguised as gifts or donations to a charitable fund. In exchange, Kerr would "provide favorable official action on behalf of the city to Person A, Person C, and other co-schemers with business interests in the city by authorizing various types of commercial marijuana activities, ensuring his supporters obtained the licenses or permits they sought, and interfering with enforcement activities by city officials."

According to the 2021 indictment, when the city was first drawing up the zoning area that marijuana dispensary would be allowed in, Kerr requested a change in it boundaries so as to include a business owned by Person A. Six days later, Kerr deposited a $5,000 check from Person A; the check's memo line read: "ADV XMAS FUND." Months later, he deposited a $10,000 check from Person A's law firm, the memo line of which read: "PLAINTIFF ADVANCE."

In April 2018, Kerr texted Person C to thank him, writing: "I owe you big time, you name it."

Person C replied: “Just returning the favor for all your help.”

Kerr, 65, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

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