Palm Springs Mayor Charged in Bribery Scheme

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – The former mayor of Palm Springs faces up to 19 years in state prison on charges of accepting $375,000 in bribes from real estate developers.

Ex-mayor Steve Pougnet and developers Richard Meaney and John Wessman were charged Thursday on 30 counts of paying and accepting bribes, perjury, conflict of interest and conspiracy to commit bribery.

“We simply cannot tolerate corruption in government at any level,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a statement. “The people of Palm Springs are entitled to and should expect fair, open, and honest government in their city.”

Hestrin ordered the three men to surrender in the next few days.

Pougnet became mayor of Palm Springs in 2007, after serving for four years on the City Council. According to a statement from Hestrin, prosecutors believe Meaney and Wessman curried favor with Pougnet for their development projects by secretly funneling roughly $375,000 to Pougnet’s office from 2012 to 2014.

Prosecutors also say that as mayor, Pougnet voted on several projects in which he had a financial interest. He never disclosed on his statement of economic interest forms, which he signed under penalty of perjury.

In addition to 19 years in prison, if convicted Pougnet could be barred from ever holding public office again. Meaney and Wessman each face a maximum 12-year prison sentence.

Palm Springs is a desert resort town of 46,000 located 107 miles east of Los Angeles. It was the playground for Hollywood stars from the silent era through the 1960s, and is now a big draw for retirees and Canadian tourists escaping harsh Northern winters.

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