Southern California

Southern California mayor pro tem accused of taking bribe to clear up marijuana zoning dispute

Adelanto Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright was arrested Tuesday and is expected to be in Riverside federal court Wednesday 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 a statement from the US 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 Wright’s “assistance in navigating city rezoning and code enforcement issues related to a supposed marijuana transportation business,” according to the criminal complaint.

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.

Federal authorities say Wright was caught up in what began as a probe into possible corruption in the city, but 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 mayor pro tem 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 transporting marijuana, which Wright agreed to do in exchange for “15,” authorities said.

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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.

Write 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.


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