A pretrial hearing for a real estate developer accused in a Palm Springs City Hall bribery scheme was postponed Friday at the request of the prosecution and defense.
John Elroy Wessman, 83, is charged with nine counts of bribery of a public official and one count of conspiracy in connection with the alleged offenses, which go back a decade.
During a pretrial hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, the prosecution and defense appeared before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Dumanis, who granted a mutual request for a continuance in proceedings to Oct. 28.
No specific reason was given for the two sides seeking the four-month delay. It’s anticipated that when Wessman returns to court, he’ll be joined by his co-defendants, ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, 59, and developer Richard Hugh Meaney, 56.
All three men are free on bond.
In December 2020, a trial judge tossed the criminal counts filed against Wessman, saying that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges. However, the District Attorney’s Office appealed the ruling, which was overturned by a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside, resulting in all counts being reinstated.
“Based upon our independent review of the record, we conclude the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to support the indictment and that the alternative grounds for affirmance of the order suggested by defendant are not supported by the record,” the panel ruled. “Accordingly, we reverse the order granting defendant’s motion to set aside the indictment.”
Prosecutors contend that the two real estate tycoons paid bribes to Pougnet in exchange for his support of their commercial construction projects.
Pougnet is charged with 21 felony counts, including perjury, public corruption and conspiracy, while Meaney faces nine counts of bribery of a public official, and one count of conspiracy.
If convicted, Pougnet could face more than 19 years in state prison. Meaney and Wessman are each facing 12 years behind bars if convicted.
Prosecutors allege Pougnet pocketed a total of $375,000 between 2012 and 2014 to vote favorably on the men’s development projects.