Adelanto City Clerk Reported To Have Had Contact With FBI Agents

Information provided to the Sentinel suggests that the FBI has been in contact with Adelanto City Clerk Cindy Herrera as that agency pursues information about illegal activity relating to efforts to facilitate applications for marijuana-related businesses in the 34,500-population city. Of interest to federal investigators is the suspension of city land use, permitting and inspection protocols, the provision of inside-information to land speculators and/or project applicants, and the provision of monetary inducements to officials which give project applicants an advantage over their competitors.
Since Rich Kerr, John Woodard and Charley Glasper were elected in a clean sweep in the November 2014 election and displaced, respectively, then-Mayor Cari Thomas, and then-council members Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo, the city has been set on a course of dispensing with its former policy of disallowing enterprises that dealt with the cultivation, production, warehousing, processing, distribution or sale, either wholesale or retail, of marijuana and cannabis-based products to one that allows such commercial undertakings. The city made this transition in stages, initially seeking to permit medical marijuana cultivation and wholesaling operations exclusively, and only within the city’s industrial park district. Since crossing that line, the city’s approach to the toleration of the nascent cannabis industry liberalized even further, as the policy expanded to include retail sales and then production and sales of the drug for not just medical purposes but for use recreationally, that is, as an intoxicant. Accompanying the expansion of the type of marijuana to be grown and sold was an enlargement of the areas within the city in which that activity could be carried out, such that the city’s zoning codes and maps were altered to allow cannabis related activity outside the industrial park, in commercial areas as well as in areas of the city previously reserved for housing, wherein zoning was converted from residential to industrial.
Championing these changes were Kerr, Woodard, Glasper and Councilman Jermaine Wright, who was first elected to the council in 2012. They insisted that the economic shot-in-the-arm the influx of cannabis enterprises represented was the only realistic prospect of righting the city’s listing financial ship, as the previous city council, in June 2013, had declared the city to be in a state of fiscal emergency, a move preparatory to filing for bankruptcy protection. Along the way, some city employees became concerned that things were moving much too fast and that land use regulations and standards that normally attend project approval were being ignored, bypassed or violated. The council majority, which never included Councilman Ed Camargo, was insistent that city employees act with alacrity in processing applications for permits, and a number of them were sacked when they did not meet the council’s expectations.
Meanwhile, federal authorities had been alerted to the aggressive manner in which Adelanto was progressing toward transitioning to a cannabis-based economy, receiving reports that land speculators and project proponents were functioning on information provided to them by city officials well ahead of time pertaining to where rezoning of property was to take place, leading to repeated circumstances of individuals or companies purchasing property at dirt cheap rates, only to see that land zoom to values of upwards of six, seven, eight or nine times its selling price prior to the rezoning. Similarly, accounts of business license applicants coming into Adelanto City Hall with briefcases loaded with cash were widely circulating. FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency agents together with investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission skulked into town, maintaining a low profile and observing silently or representing themselves as would-be active participants in the city’s ongoing capitalistic frenzy. Two of those, an FBI agent who comported himself as an applicant for a business license to distribute marijuana from an Adelanto warehouse and another FBI agent who made the acquaintance of Councilman Jermaine Wright and held himself out to be an arsonist for hire when Wright signaled that he was interested in seeing his restaurant, Fat Boyz Grill, torched so he could collect on the $300,000 insurance policy he had on the building hosting his business. With the other undercover FBI agent, Wright agreed to take a $10,000 bribe in exchange for helping facilitate his project approval and keep it from running afoul of city regulatory efforts once it was up and running. After the FBI closed the trap that had been set for him, Wright in a short-lived arrangement, agreed to serve as an informant for the FBI to see if he might ensnare some of his fellow council members and/or some of the applicants for cannabis operations in Adelanto in acts of bribery. That fell apart, however, when Wright sought to arrange to have one of the undercover FBI agents rubbed out. On November 7, Wright was arrested by the FBI on a warrant prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office charging him with attempted arson and soliciting a bribe. He remained jailed for more than six months, during which time he was removed from office by the city council on January 3, based on the provisions of California Government Code §36513 and the Adelanto City Charter §505, under which city officials are obliged to vacate a council member’s position when that official has been absent from all regularly scheduled city council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days from the date that the city council member last attended a regular meeting of the city council, given that Wright had last attended a meeting on October 25.
Wright’s arrest and subsequent absence from the council had the effect of reducing to a near standstill the city’s previous headlong rush toward saturating the 53-square mile city with cannabis-related businesses, as Glasper was severely chastened by what had happened to Wright and he became reluctant, nigh on to absolutely unwilling, to engage in any further licensing of marijuana operations in town. Kerr and Woodard, however, remained actively committed to the game plan, distancing themselves from Wright while insisting they had done nothing wrong, and that they were simply seeking to structure a way for Adelanto to pull itself out of the financial abyss it had tumbled into in a new era where a substance for so long outlawed and considered societally unacceptable as an intoxicant is now being brought into the mainstream of American, or at least Californian, existence. They are, they say, angling the best they can to make sure that Adelanto takes advantage of the economic possibilities this offers. Networking with many of those elements of the cannabis industry they are trying to accommodate, Kerr and Woodard pushed the candidacy of Joy Jeannette, who was appointed to the planning commission by Woodard and who has consistently in that capacity supported the pro-cannabis agenda, in the June 5 election to select a replacement for Wright. Ultimately, Jeannette was victorious in that race. It is widely anticipated that upon being sworn into office next week and then taking her position on the council dais, Jeannette will become the third vote to complete and empower Kerr and Woodard’s ruling coalition, and that the long suspended marijuanification of Adelanto will resume.
Of note, however, is that just a little less than a month before that election, on May 8, the FBI served a series of search warrants in furtherance of its investigation into suspicions of criminal activity entangling the effort to recreate the city as the marijuana capital of California. Among those places targeted in the FBI raids were City Hall, Kerr’s home, and the corporate offices of the parent company to the marijuana dispensary that has opened at 17499 Adelanto Road on the premises of what was the Jet Room, a bar that catered to airmen at George Air Force Base before it was shuttered in 1992.
An individual believed to be a wellspring of information that could be of use to the FBI in fleshing out the skeleton of a case it has so far constructed in Adelanto is City Clerk Cindy Herrera. In 2015, after City Manager Jim Hart had departed rather than follow the directives from Kerr, Wright, Woodard and Glasper, and following City Engineer/Public Works Director Tom Thornton’s short-lived replacement of Hart as city manager during which he proved too tentative in embracing the council majority’s plan for a cannabis-fueled economic rejuvenation of the city, the council elevated Herrera from her city manager’s post to the senior staff assignment. It was under Herrera that real progress toward the goals that Kerr, Wright, Woodard and Glasper had in mind was made, as the city in November 2015 passed the ordinance that called for permitting cultivation facilities into the industrial park, touching off a frenzy of grow-house applications. And it was under Herrera that staff began the city’s nearly equally energetic effort to process those applications. So pleased was the council with the fashion in which Herrera was accommodating its majority vision that in time the council dropped the “interim” prefix from her title as city manager. It was while Herrera was yet city manager that the practice of “fast passing” or “fast tracking” the cannabis businesses applications at City Hall was first implemented. Nevertheless, when the city council went beyond simply facilitating such developments and moved toward suspending altogether normal inspection processes all businesses are subjected to and simply rubberstamping whatever marijuana cultivation proposals came down the pike, Herrera balked. Of issue in the final days, weeks and months of Herrera’s tenure as city manager were wholesale firings of city staff members who were less than fully accommodating of the council majority’s mandate to give swift passage of, plan check approval to, or occupancy permits for cannabis-related businesses. Those firings were coordinated through Herrera, as city manager. Nevertheless, it is recognized that she was disturbed by the constant bloodletting. By early 2017, the council majority had grown disenchanted with Herrera. In what was the final straw, Herrera suspended the city’s contract economic development director, Jesse Flores, whose contract with the city allowed him to promote economic development in the city by facilitating on behalf of the city project applications and approvals while simultaneously signing on as a consultant with or even working for those developers making those project applications, applying for permits or seeking project approvals. While many felt the arrangement with Flores created an opening by which graft in the forms of bribes and kickbacks could flood into the city since he was at liberty to take payments from those with business proposals before the city, Kerr, Wright, Woodard and Glasper considered Flores’ presence in a much more positive light.
Instead of firing Herrera outright, the council allowed her to return to her former position of city clerk, whereupon Flores’ suspension was ended and he has moved back into his role as the city’s contract economic development director.
An event which occurred relatively late under Herrera’s watch as city manager which is now of interest to investigators involved a staff meeting that occurred on December 13, 2016, attended by Mayor Kerr and Councilman Glasper. Several key staff members were present at the meeting, including the contract City Engineer Wilson So, Assistant City Engineer Aaron Mower, Senior Planner Mark De Manincor, and Conservation Specialist Belen Cordero, along with Herrera and Flores. The upshot of the exchange was the mayor’s insistence that a multitude of projects be fast tracked and the development fees, infrastructure fees and permit fees for them be waived, together with his suggestion that the city apply for grants to make up for any loss in revenue those waivers entailed. When staff sought to explain to the mayor that this was not realistic or in keeping with rudimentary planning standards, he became irate. When Wilson So, in particular, artfully and respectfully told the mayor that suspending the fees while attempting to defray staff costs for processing the incoming project applications through grants, which in any event would cost at least $40,000 to apply for with no guarantee of success, could have disastrous financial consequences, Kerr was provoked. “Shut the fuck up!” he told So, throwing his own cell phone across the room, and telling those present that their attitudes needed to change, or else. “I’ve had enough of this shit,” the mayor thundered and then stormed out.
The next day De Manincor, Cordero, Mower and So were axed in a 4-to-1 vote of the city council.
Herrera declined to discuss her interaction with the FBI, or whether she had initiated the contacts or was herself approached by agents.
-Mark Gutglueck

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