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Judge unseals transcripts in corruption case against former Palm Springs mayor, developers

A judge has unsealed the grand jury transcripts in the corruption case against former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and developers John Wessman and Richard Meaney.

The grand jury transcript has three volumes and more than 700 pages. Our team is going through the documents, uncovering new facts on the Scandal at City Hall, a case 5 years in the making.

The court records show Pougnet named a price of $225,000 to stay in Palm Springs. They say the mayor's salary of about $43,000 per year wasn't enough to keep him from his husband and kids in Colorado.

Further details uncovered in transcripts, including a shocking admission from one of the people entangled in the alleged scheme.

Emails between Pougnet and Coachella Valley developer Richard Meaney show Pougnet saying, "I need to know that an offer is very real; that I'm an employee somewhere that has a letter 'of employment.' That will make a decision much easier to make."

"…Staying (in Palm Springs) has huge family implications considering that I would be going back and forth."

Meaney wrote back, "If it is 220 (thousand) annually, will you commit?"

Pougnet then negotiated it up to $225,000.

After a meeting to discuss Measure J and how to keep Pougnet with the city, Harold Matzner testified that he hired Pougnet as a consultant for the Palm Springs Film Festival, in a position intended to bring in more sponsorships. Pougnet's salary was set to be paid $150,000 per year.

There are no allegations against Matzner or the film festival in this case.

The remaining $75,000 came from an interior design company called Mitchell-Brix, where Pougnet was on the payroll. But prosecutors said they weren't the ones paying Pougnet.

Instead, prosecutors allege the money started with Wessman Development, then went to Meaney's company Union Abbey, then to the Mitchell Group, and finally landing with Pougnet.

In later years, the money Pougnet received from the film festival reduced, and the money coming from Wessman and Meaney's companies increased.

All this, prosecutors said, was in return for Pougnet's favorable votes on development projects downtown.

Pougnet, Meaney, and Wessman face bribery and corruption charges after the FBI raided Palm Springs city hall in 2015.

Pougnet is believed to have accepted up to $375,000 to push Palm Springs development projects through the city council, according to the District Attorney.

The defense had been pushing the judge to keep the transcripts sealed, citing concerns of swaying future jurors. Prosecutors said there is no compelling reason to keep them sealed.

One defense attorney later said what the public will see in the transcripts will sway the trial in favor of the defense.

"When you see these documents, you'll see what a weak case this is," the defense attorney told News Channel 3. "It's a very weak case and it shouldn't have been brought, and when the time comes to try it, if it doesn't get thrown out on April 10th which it should, everyone will learn what a weak case it is."

Normally News Channel 3 would make any public documents available to read, but court transcripts are different. News Channel 3 was able to pay to get a copy of these transcripts when they were unsealed, but it is actually illegal for us to share those documents with the public.

California Government Code Section 69954 (d) states that "Any court, party, or person who has purchased a transcript may, without paying a further fee to the reporter, reproduce a copy or portion thereof as an exhibit pursuant to court order or rule, or for internal use, but shall not otherwise provide or sell a copy or copies to any other party or person."

Court is expected to continue on April 10th, when the judge will consider a motion to dismiss the case.

(Update 4/10/2020) The hearing was pushed back to July 24

You can reach Jake on TwitterFacebook or email him at jake.ingrassia@kesq.com.

Crime / News / News Headlines / Top Stories

Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

Jesus Reyes

Timothy Kiley

Timothy Kiley is Assistant News Director for News Channel 3 starting in 2002 as Photojournalist.

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