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California politico suspected of torching restaurant for insurance

November 08, 2017, Riverside, CA — Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright was arrested Tuesday, Nov. 7, and appeared in Riverside federal court Wednesday, Nov. 8, to answer to federal charges that he took a $10,000 cash bribe and that he hired a man to burn down his restaurant to collect insurance money, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Wright is accused of asking for and accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent, who told Wright he wanted his help “navigating city rezoning and code enforcement issues related to a supposed marijuana transportation business,” the criminal complaint read.

The complaint, filed Monday, also alleges Wright paid another undercover FBI agent $1,500 to burn down his barbeque restaurant, Fat Boyz Grill, at 11619 Rancho Road.

“I’m very disappointed. I didn’t know he was conniving and doing things behind the scenes like that,” Adelanto Councilman Charley Glasper said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “What he did was totally uncalled for if it is true. I wouldn’t expect someone of his caliber to be participating in something like that.”

Mayor Rich Kerr could not immediately be reached for comment, but a statement from an Adelanto spokesman on behalf of city officials read, “We’re sad to learn about the circumstances involving Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright, but we want our residents and businesses to know that nothing changes in the city. We will continue to deliver the best possible services our constituents deserve, and we will cooperate to the fullest extent with the authorities in their investigation into the matter involving Mr. Wright, and hope for a speedy resolution.”

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Councilman John “Bug” Woodard hung up when he was told the call was about Wright and if he wished to comment.

Wearing a black T-shirt with an American flag emblazoned on the front, Wright appeared in U.S. District Court in Riverside Wednesday for a detention hearing. His appointed counsel, Federal Deputy Public Defender Angela Viramontes, requested the detention hearing be postponed until Monday, Nov. 13. Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato granted the request, ordering Wright to remain in custody and return to court at 1 p.m. Monday, when she said she will decide whether or not Wright will be released on bond.

Viramontes declined to comment after Wednesday’s hearing.

“This case started after concerned citizens and other sources of information complained about suspected corruption in the city of Adelanto. The FBI followed up on that information and conducted an investigation, and the investigation is ongoing,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Widman said following Wednesday’s hearing.

He said he could not comment on the status of the investigation and other individuals the government may be targeting.

“I can tell you this is a case about a public official who allegedly breached the public’s trust by having his hand out, palm up, and also trying to work with someone to burn down his restaurant. … so he could collect $300,000 in insurance proceeds,” Widman said.

Wright was booked into the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga following his arrest Tuesday, and on Wednesday remained in the custody of U.S. Marshals, Widman said. Wright is being held without bail, at least until Monday, according to Widman.

Wright, who is also a former Adelanto school board trustee and unsuccessfully ran for First District San Bernardino County supervisor in 2012, got caught up in what began as a probe into possible corruption in the city. It led to an informant introducing Wright to both undercover agents and to a series of recorded conversations that investigators say document Wright discussing both the bribe and insurance fraud, according to the affidavit.

In the bribe allegations, investigators say that an informant introduced Wright to an undercover agent who told the councilman that he wanted to move his marijuana business to the city.

In June, Wright offered to sell his vote to the undercover agent for $20,000 in order “to obtain the necessary votes from the Adelanto City Council for the expansion of the area zoned for marijuana cultivation,” the affidavit states.

It also alleges Wright called the bribe a “donation” that would have to be made to a third party “because he keeps us out of jail.” However, due to a quicker-than-anticipated vote and lack of funds, the money was never paid.

The Adelanto City Council approved the expansion of the marijuana zone in mid-July, with Wright voting in favor of the issue.

Following the vote, the undercover agent asked for Wright’s help in fast-tracking an approval for a marijuana transportation business, which Wright agreed to do in exchange for “15,” an apparent reference to $15,000.

During a meeting with the agent last month, the undercover officer “placed $10,000 dollars on a box being used as a table, made up of two stacks of $50 bills, and told Wright, ‘That’s for you, or your nonprofit, whatever,’ ” according to the affidavit. Wright then placed the money in his pocket.

Authorities allege Wright then told the agent that he would help with code enforcement and votes, even offering to intervene on the agent’s behalf to prevent code enforcement activities against the marijuana business, noting though that he would require a “stack.” The stack was later specifically identified as $2,000 for each time he would step in, officials said.

In the suspected insurance fraud scheme, authorities say Wright again turned to the same informant to find someone willing to burn down his eatery and make it look like an electrical issue had caused the fire.

The informant first told FBI officials of the plan in August, according to the affidavit. In late September, Wright again asked the informant to pass along his cellphone number to an electrician willing to commit the fraud.

Wright subsequently paid another undercover federal agent $1,500 so Wright could collect $300,000 in insurance money, according to the affidavit.

If convicted on both counts, Wright is facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the bribery count and up to 20 years in prison for the arson charge. The arson charge also carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years in prison.

Glasper is demanding Wright’s removal from the City Council.

“He’s done as far as I’m concerned,” said Glasper, who has served on the Council since 2004. “I don’t want to see him up on that dais on the City Council anymore. He has no seat there.”

The allegations against Wright only add to the city’s history of problems, including it being on the brink of insolvency. In 2013, faced a fiscal emergency due to stagnant sales tax revenue, so much so that the city grappled with covering the cost for essential services including fire and police.

“For me, It’s about bringing a city up off its knees so it can walk, then run. This city had been dragging behind in the Victor Valley for years, and for this kind of behavior by public officials, it’s uncalled for,” Glasper said.

Wright, after learning he was under investigation by the FBI, became more desperate and began acting erratically. He reached out to the undercover informant to find someone to attack him to the point of memory loss, according to the affidavit.

The recorded conversation between Wright and the informant occurred on Oct. 23.

“So, how much is it going to cost to get my (expletive) beat? And it needs to happen quickly though,” Wright told the undercover informant, according to the affidavit.

Wright told the informant, “they gotta hit me in the head.” He also told the informant the beating would accomplish two things: That it would get the investigation “off his back” and convince his estranged wife to come back to him, according to the court document.

“What am I suppose to do? I’m still underneath this federal (expletive),” Wright told the informant.

Source: The Sun

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