Developer charged again for allegedly bribing ex-Palm Springs mayor
A real estate developer whose criminal charges for allegedly bribing a former Palm Springs mayor were thrown out last year will be back in court in June, following a state appeals court’s decision to reinstate the charges.
John Elroy Wessman, 83, was originally charged with nine felony counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy, but the charges were thrown out in December 2020 by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold Hopp, who ruled the evidence against him was insufficient to support the charges.
Hopp upheld the charges against former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, 58, and developer Richard Hugh Meaney, 56.
Prosecutors contend the developers paid bribes to Pougnet in exchange for his support of development projects.
On March 4, a three-judge panel of the California 4th District Court of Appeals reversed Hopp’s ruling and reinstated the charges against Wessman.
“Based upon our independent review of the record, we conclude the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to support the indictment and that the alternative grounds for affirmance of the order suggested by defendant are not supported by the record,” the panel ruled. “Accordingly, we reverse the order granting defendant’s motion to set aside the indictment.”
Pougnet and Meaney are scheduled to appear at the Larson Justice Center on June 24, and according to Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall, Wessman is expected to be in court alongside them.
Pougnet is charged with 21 felony counts, including perjury, public corruption and conspiracy, while Meaney faces nine counts of bribing a public official and one count of conspiracy.
If convicted as charged, Pougnet could face more than 19 years in prison, and would also be barred from ever holding public office again. Meaney and Wessman could be sentenced to 12 years behind bars if convicted.
Prosecutors allege Pougnet pocketed a total of $375,000 between 2012 and 2014 to vote favorably on certain development projects. Payments to Pougnet were allegedly drawn directly from accounts maintained by Meaney’s Union Abbey Co. and Wessman Development Inc., and additional individuals linked to the developers.