Ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet’s corruption trail to begin

Steve Pougnet

The bribery and corruption case against ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and real estate developer Richard Meaney is expected to go to trial in March. Photo: City of Palm Springs.

The bribery and corruption case against ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and real estate developer Richard Meaney is expected to go to trial in March.

Meaney and attorneys representing him and Pougnet agreed during an October hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio that the trial would begin next month. Steve Pougnet, 58, who identifies as gay, didn’t appear at the hearing.

Pougnet and Meaney were indicted in 2019 for 31 counts of bribery, perjury, and conspiracy. Steve Pougnet faces 21 felonies, and Meaney faces 10.

Meaney is accused of giving Pougnet money in exchange for greenlighting his real estate projects. They have pleaded not guilty.

In December, Judge Harold Hopp dismissed the case against a second developer, John Wessman. The judge said the prosecutor didn’t present enough evidence linking Wessman to the alleged bribery plot involving the ex-mayor.

Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin has appealed that ruling.

Palm Springs’ Lisa Middleton to be city’s 1st transgender mayor

Serving on Palm Spring City Council

Pougnet was elected to the Palm Springs City Council in December 2007 and won a second term, serving until December 2015.

Pougnet married Christopher Green in 2008.

Pougnet ran unopposed in the June 2010 primary election to win the Democratic nomination for the United States House of Representatives seat representing California’s 45th congressional district.

In the November 2010 election, he ran against American Independent Bill Lussenheide and Republican incumbent, Mary Bono Mack. Bono Mack defeated Pougnet and Lussenheide in the general election.

Bribery case started in 2012

This case started nearly 10 years ago. Meaney and Wessman were accused of paying Pougnet approximately $375,000 to buy votes and influence on several lucrative projects in Palm Springs, such as the downtown redevelopment project, according to the original complaint.

The alleged bribery is believed to have taken place between 2012 and 2014.

Conflict of interest allegations first surfaced against Pougnet in 2015. In September 2015, the FBI and Inland Empire Public Corruption Task Force confiscated information from computer servers and numerous documents at Palm Springs City Hall.

Hestrin charged the trio in February 2017. All three pleaded not guilty eight months later.

Indicted by grand jury in 2019

The case was delayed multiple times until the trio was indicted by a grand jury in 2019.

Grand jury transcripts of the secret hearings resulting in the indictment of the three were released in 2020 and outline the prosecution’s case.

Pougnet allegedly told several local business people in 2010 that he could no longer serve as mayor unless he found a way to make more money, according to the transcripts.

Prosecutors allege that Meaney gave money from Wessman to Pougnet through a shell company that was disguised as payments for consulting work.

If convicted on all counts, Pougnet could receive up to 19 years in prison.

Meaney, if found guilty on all counts, could face 12 years in prison.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!