Former Adelanto councilman convicted of accepting $10K bribe from undercover officer – San Bernardino Sun

Former Adelanto City Councilman Jermaine Wright has been convicted of accepting a $10,000 cash bribe and hiring a man to burn down his restaurant so he could fraudulently collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance proceeds.

A U.S. District Court jury found Wright, 46, guilty on one count of bribery of programs receiving federal funds and one count of attempted arson of a building affecting interstate commerce. Wright, who now lives in Riverside, was taken into custody following the verdict on Wednesday, June 22.

Wright, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 12, faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.

Pot plot

The verdict capped a six-day trial, during which federal prosecutors presented evidence from a complex corruption probe that began in early 2017.

During a meeting on June 15, 2017, at the Fat Boyz Grill, which is owned by Wright, an FBI undercover agent told him he was interested in moving a marijuana cultivation business to Adelanto and wanted to purchase a commercial parcel that was outside the city’s marijuana cultivation zone.

The agent, who was working with a confidential informant, also elicited Wright’s help in getting the property rezoned to increase its value.

Wright replied that to obtain the necessary City Council votes to expand the cultivation zone, he would have to be paid “20,” which the agent interpreted as meaning $20,000, according to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.

When the agent asked how to make the payment, Wright told him he only accepted cash, adding the money must be “donated” through another person identified in the affidavit only as “Person A.” The agent replied he felt more comfortable dealing with Wright directly, but Wright replied the cash had to be paid to Person A “because he keeps us out of jail,” the affidavit states.

During an Adelanto City Council meeting on July 14, 2017, Wright voted in favor of expanding the city’s existing marijuana cultivation zone.

Later that month, the undercover agent asked Wright the best way to obtain a permit for the marijuana cultivation business, provided he was able to buy property in the newly enlarged zone.

Wright told the agent, “Once you own the property … I can get you the permit prior to your license,” the affidavit states. The councilman also explained that the agent should obtain a property address, fill out a cultivation application on the city’s website, and bring the paperwork to him with a $7,000 check made out to the city along with a “donation,” according to the affidavit.

The agent said he never paid Wright for his vote to rezone the land to allow marijuana cultivation because the City Council’s expansion vote occurred sooner than anticipated and the funds were not available.

On Aug. 31, 2017, the informant, under the agent’s direction, recorded a meeting with Wright at Fat Boyz Grill. The informant told Wright the agent wanted to lease property from him to open a marijuana transportation business.

Wright told the informant the property was not properly zoned for marijuana-related activities and would need an “exemption,” the affidavit says. “If he (the agent) wants his exemption, I want my 10,” Wright said, according to a transcript of the recording

The “10” that Wright referred to apparently meant 10% of the transportation business’ annual profits, according to the affidavit.

During an Oct. 6, 2017, meeting, the undercover agent gave Wright $10,000 in cash for the exemption instead of paying 10% in profits.

The agent then placed two stacks of 50-dollar bills on a makeshift table and told Wright, “That’s for you, or your non-profit, whatever,” the affidavit states. Wright thanked the agent and placed the cash in his pocket.

Arson bribery

Separately, in August 2017, Wright sought the informant’s help in finding someone to burn down Fat Boyz Grill. Wright asked the informant to give his cellphone number to the “electrician” because he wanted the fire to appear to be caused by an electrical problem, states the affidavit.

Wright met with an undercover FBI agent posing as an electrician on Oct. 3, 2017, and said he wanted the fire on the following Saturday, when the sprinkler system would be turned off, the affidavit says.

After Wright assured the undercover agent that his insurance policy covers everything, the “electrician” agreed to do the job for $1,500. At a meeting three days later, Wright paid the $1,500 after the undercover agent told Wright he needed more time to prepare for the job, according to the affidavit.

The FBI executed a search warrant at Fat Boyz Grill and interviewed Wright, who confessed to hiring the undercover agent to burn down the restaurant, says the affidavit.

The next day, Wright asked the informant for help in making the undercover agent “go away,” prosecutors say.

The affidavit says Wright also attempted to hatch a plot with the informant to stage an assault on him, believing he could then claim he suffered memory loss and the FBI would drop the case against him. In November 2017, Wright reported that he had been assaulted.

Wright, who quit attending City Council meetings after his arrest on Nov. 7, 2017, is the second Adelanto elected official to face corruption charges for dealings involving a cannabis business.

Former Mayor Rich Kerr was charged in federal court in August 2021 with accepting more than $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks.

Prosecutors allege that Kerr, from 2014 to 2018, secretly used his position to enrich himself and named co-conspirators by approving ordinances authorizing marijuana cultivation, transportation and commercial sales in the city. He is awaiting trial.

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