A cannabis bribe and arson: Former Adelanto councilman sentenced to federal prison

A cannabis bribe and arson: Former Adelanto councilman sentenced to federal prison

A former Adelanto city councilman convicted of taking a $10,000 bribe to help open a cannabis business and also hiring someone to burn down his restaurant for an insurance payout has been sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Jermaine Wright, a 46-year-old Riverside resident, was sentenced on Monday by U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

Wright was found guilty on June 22, after a six-day trial, of bribery and attempted arson, prosecutors said.

Investigators began a looking into possible corruption in the San Bernardino County city in early 2017 , according to the prosecutors.

In June that year, a confidential informant introduced Wright to an undercover FBI agent who went by the name “Steve” at Wright’s restaurant, Fat Boyz Grill, in Adelanto, according to a pre-sentencing report filed by prosecutors Sept. 19.

“Among other things, during that meeting Steve told defendant that Steve was interested in moving his marijuana cultivation business to Adelanto,” the report stated. “Steve also asked about the best way to get permits, licenses, and other approvals necessary for operation, and told defendant that he was interested in purchasing a commercial property outside of the approved zone for marijuana cultivation at a reduced price, and then attempting to have the land re-zoned by the City Council.”

Wright, who was Adelanto’s acting mayor pro tem at the time, soon named his price to arrange the deal, telling the undercover agent he would help clear the way for his cannabis operation for $20,000.

Conversations continued between the men for several weeks, according to the pre-sentencing report.

Wright was recorded in August telling the confidential informant that he was in contact with a marijuana business that would pay them $20,000 “for engineering a vote to select that business as one of four to receive a marijuana dispensary permit in the [city],” according to the report.

The councilman told the informant that the money had to go to a nonprofit set up to conceal their scheme and that he would put the informant on the nonprofit’s board so they could receive the money as well, the report stated.

Wright eventually agreed to taking a $10,000 bribe and told the informant that going forward he expected “a stack,” or $2,000, any time he had to interfere to head off any code enforcement at the business, according to the report.

That month also saw Wright hatch his arson scheme. The informant put the councilman in touch with a different undercover agent posing as an electrician, according to the report.

The councilman met with the agent in early October and laid out his plan.

Wright said he wanted the damage at his restaurant to be “total,” according to the report. He told the undercover agent that the building’s landlord would be turning off the water on an upcoming weekend, leaving the sprinkler system useless, the report stated.

“Defendant said that his insurance policy provided $300,000 in coverage,” according to the report. “[The undercover agent] said the cost of the arson would be up to $1,500. Defendant explained that the fire would have to burn quickly because the fire department was just down the street from his restaurant and the fire department would probably arrive within five minutes of the fire starting. Defendant added that he can leave a gas line open and turn off the alarms, making it look like ‘staff’ made a mistake.”

The two met three days later and Wright paid the undercover agent $1,500 after the agent told the councilman he needed more time to prepare for the job, prosecutors said.

In mid-October, 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, prosecutors said. The following day, the informant told the FBI that Wright had been in contact about the search and asked for help to make the undercover agent “go away.”

David Kaloyanides, Wright’s attorney, told The Times that he and his client were pleased the judge went with their request for a five-year sentence, the minimum allowed by statute.

“We’re also pleased that he rejected [U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services’] request for a fine,” Kaloyanides said.

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