FBI agents on Tuesday raided Adelanto City Hall and the home of the mayor in a widening corruption probe into the High Desert town’s dealings with marijuana businesses.
Agents also served search warrants at the Jet Room, an Adelanto marijuana dispensary, and the Professional Lawyers Group in San Bernardino, which is the law office of the Jet Room’s attorney, Philip E. Rios.
The law office’s general counsel, David R. Serrano, is the brother of Jet Room owner Manuel “Manny” Serrano, Rios confirmed in a telephone interview Tuesday. He declined further comment.
The warrants were sealed by a federal court, and FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she could not comment on the the documents other than to say they did involve “an investigation into criminal activity.” No arrest warrants were issued, she said.
Several agencies were involved in the investigation, including the Internal Revenue Service, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department, Eimiller said.
A woman standing on the sidewalk outside Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr’s home Tuesday morning smoking a cigarette, who identified herself as his daughter but refused to give her name, said her mother called her to inform her what was going on.
“They’re just doing their due diligence,” she said of the FBI agents searching her parents’ home, located across from a small park in a neighborhood about five minutes from City Hall. “They’re just making copies of everything to make sure there’s no city property here. They won’t say much.”
A throng of special agents carried or carted away cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins full of materials seized from the home shortly before noon.
A woman who answered the front door following the departure of the agents said Kerr would not be commenting.
Neighbor Lupe Cerda said the Kerr residence was teeming with FBI agents when she returned shortly after 8 a.m. from taking her daughter to school. She said they blocked her from parking in her driveway and told her to park down the street.
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“I just wanted to get to my house,” Cerda said. She was alarmed by all the activity, but said Kerr’s wife, Misty, put her at ease.
“Misty said, ‘Everything’s fine,’” Cerda said.
At City Hall, Fire Chief Dan Mejia arrived for a weekly 10:30 a.m. staff meeting with department heads to find the doors locked, and learned of the FBI raid.
“We’re as surprised as anyone else,” he said.
Adelanto resident Maria Cortez, 43, arrived with her family to pay her water bill and was also surprised to find City Hall shuttered. When she learned the reason why, she said, “Oh, my God!”
The city issued a statement Tuesday announcing the FBI’s investigation into Kerr and that City Hall would remain closed throughout Tuesday but would re-open Wednesday.
“The city is unaware of the nature of the FBI’s investigation. Nevertheless, the City remains prepared to cooperate with any investigation being conducted,” the statement said.
City spokesman Michael Stevens said he was unsure if Kerr would attend Wednesday’s scheduled City Council meeting.
Agents wrapped up their raid at the Jet Room, at 17499 Adelanto Rd., about 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday’s raids were the latest developments in a case that broke in November with the arrest and subsequent indictment of former Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright. Wright stands accused of taking a $10,000 cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for his help rezoning an area of the city for a marijuana transportation business.
Wright also stands accused of paying another undercover FBI agent $1,500 to burn down his barbecue restaurant, Fat Boyz Grill, at 11619 Rancho Rd., in order to collect on a $300,000 insurance policy.
Wright pleaded not guilty and awaits trial on the charges, which is scheduled for Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
The High Desert city has a long history of civic corruption, mired in multiple scandals involving elected officials, members of its former police force and even an animal control supervisor.
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Since Kerr was elected Mayor in 2014, controversy has continued to enshroud the cash-strapped and beleaguered city.
Among the corruption allegations brought up recently by Gabriel Elliott, the Adelanto city manager placed on leave in December following what he called trumped-up claims of sexual harassment, was that the city was in a rush to sell property to a commercial marijuana grower for $700,000.
Elliott said the property, the city public works building/emergency operations center, was appraised for $1 million and could have been sold for three times that. The deal ultimately fell through.
Elliott has also said he believed the harassment claims came about because of his repeated complaints alleging illegal and unethical practices by Kerr and other council members in violation of the City Charter, as well as his complaint about the alleged misconduct to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. He had said Kerr’s personal and professional ties to his accusers likely factor into what happened to him.
“Unfortunately, Adelanto having an ongoing corruption issue isn’t a surprise,” Elliott’s attorney and former Adelanto Mayor Tristan G. Pelayes said in a statement Tuesday. “They had an honest city manager who attempted to report the mayor and his cronies. He was retaliated against and placed on administrative leave for no good reason.”
Tuesday’s raid was not the first time Kerr was publicly accused of wrongdoing. In January, an intern accused Kerr of sexual harassment and alleged workplace and public humiliation in a claim filed with the city.
Kerr, the woman said, created an “uncomfortable, intimidating, and embarrassing” work environment by telling city employees he was “trying to get my number.”
Kerr was cleared of the complaints in February after an independent investigation.
A report on the Elliott sexual harassment complaints has been completed, but the City Council has ot taken any action. Elliott remains on paid administrative leave.
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