PALM SPRINGS — Former Mayor Stephen Pougnet — who local media say hasn’t been seen in Palm Springs since he left office in late 2015 amid scrutiny that he was paid more than $200,00 from a developer for unspecified consulting work and that he sought city approval for projects from the same developer — returned to the area from his home in Colorado, but it wasn’t a traditional welcome home ceremony.
The 53-year-old, former two term mayor who is openly gay and has been living in Denver with his husband, Christopher Green, and raising their 6-year-old twins, returned to the desert resort area February 22 and turned himself into the Robert Presley Detention Center. Pougnet’s surrender was six days after Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin filed a criminal complaint accusing Pougnet of accepting about $375,000 in bribes between 2012 and 2014 from Palm Springs developers John Wessman, 78, and Richard Meaney, 51, in return for getting city approval for their projects. Pougnet paid his $100,000 bail and didn’t spend any time in jail, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s website.
The accusations against Pougnet, Meaney and Wessman are the result of an 18-month investigation by an Inland Empire public corruption task force, which included a 2015 raid of Palm Springs City Hall by FBI agents and county investigators.
The raid followed reports by The Desert Sun that revealed questionable financial ties between the mayor and the developers.
If convicted on all counts, Pougnet would be barred for life from holding public office and face a potential maximum sentence of 19 years in state prison, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said in a press statement.
FIRST COURT APPEARANCE
Pougnet is scheduled to appear at the Riverside Hall of Justice for his April 21 arraignment. Meaney and Wessman also surrendered mid February. They posted bail and were released. Wessman is due to make his first court appearance March 16, while Meaney’s first court appearance is scheduled for late April, The Desert Sun reports.
Pougnet’s alleged bribes were allegedly moved through shell companies, which pretended to hire Pougnet as a consultant. Pougnet is also accused of criminal conflict of interest and lying on financial disclosure forms, the district attorney’s office said.