A grand jury has indicted the former mayor of Palm Springs in a public corruption case that alleges he took $375,000 in bribes from real estate developers.
Former Mayor Stephen Philip Pougnet could be barred for life from holding public office if he is convicted, according to Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. He faces up to 19 years in prison.
Real estate developers Richard Hugh Meaney and John Elroy Wessman were also charged. The defendants will be arraigned in Riverside County Superior Court on Sept. 12.
Officials allege Meaney and Wessman secretly funneled money to Pougnet between 2012 and 2014 when they had lucrative development projects before the city council. Pougnet allegedly voted on the projects and did not disclose his financial interest.
Malcolm Segal, an attorney for Pougnet, called the votes “non-controversial” in a statement and said his client was a “terrific mayor” who “did his very best” for Palm Springs.
“This filing is simply another step in the legal process which will enable Steve to have the matter heard by a jury,” Segal said in a statement Sunday. “He will plead not guilty and expects to be fully vindicated when all the facts are presented.”
Pougnet was indicted on 21 counts and Meaney and Wessman, who face up to 12 years in prison respectively, were each indicted on 10 counts. It was not immediately clear if Meaney and Wessman had lawyers who could comment on their behalf.
A statement from the current Palm Springs mayor, Robert Moon, as well as Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors and the city’s three councilmembers said they are pleased the district attorney had a grand jury hear the case’s evidence. The elected officials noted they began their terms after the alleged wrongdoing occurred.