Against the objections of the prosecution, a judge agreed Friday to a three-month delay of a hearing that will determine whether ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and two Coachella Valley developers will have to stand trial on numerous bribery and perjury charges stemming from a scandal involving hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly paid to the former mayor.
John Wessman, 80, and Richard Meaney, 53, are accused of paying Pougnet, 55, around $375,000 between 2012 and 2014 to vote favorably when their development projects came up before the city council.
If convicted on all counts, Pougnet would face up to 19 years in state prison and be barred for life from holding public office, while Meaney and Wessman would each face a maximum of 12 years behind bars.
An April 15 date had been set for the defendants’ preliminary hearing, but attorneys representing the trio sought a delay in the proceedings, citing scheduling conflicts.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Barajas opposed the delay, but Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Latting granted the request during a brief hearing at which the defendants were not present. The preliminary hearing, which is expected to last three days, is now scheduled to start on July 17.
Charges against the trio were filed in February 2017. Their arraignment was postponed several times before they entered not guilty pleas that October.
Payments to Pougnet were allegedly drawn directly from accounts maintained by Meaney’s Union Abbey Co. and Wessman Development Inc. Court papers allege the developers paid Pougnet through shell companies for consulting work that was never performed.
Prosecutors allege that the bribes were tied to several council votes on downtown properties, including the Dakota gated community, Desert Fashion Plaza, the Kimpton Hotel and the Vivante retirement housing development.
“There was very strong evidence that Mr. Meaney and Mr. Wessman were buying the mayor’s (vote),” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said when the charges were announced. “They had a lot to gain from his actions on the (city) council.”
All three defendants remain free on $25,000 bail.
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