More than four-and-a-half years after he was arrested by the FBI, Former Adelanto City Councilman Jermaine Wright on June 22 was found guilty by a jury on federal criminal charges that he accepted a $10,000 cash bribe and that he hired a man to burn down his restaurant so he could fraudulently collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance proceeds.
Wright, 46, of Riverside, was found guilty late Wednesday afternoon of one count of bribery involving an entity receiving federal funds and one count of attempted arson of a building affecting interstate commerce. Wright was remanded into federal custody following the verdict’s announcement.United States District Judge Jesus G. Bernal scheduled a September 12 sentencing hearing, at which time Wright will face a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison for the attempted arson offense and a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for both crimes.
According to the evidence presented at his six-day trial, in early 2017, federal investigators began a probe into possible corruption in Adelanto, where the city council of which Wright was a member in 2015 made the cultivation of medical marijuana legal within the city’s industrial park area. During the investigation, law enforcement used an informant who introduced Wright to two undercover FBI agents and recorded a series of conversations in which Wright discussed both plots.
In the first scheme, Wright – then an Adelanto city councilman as well as the city’s mayor pro tem – accepted a $10,000 bribe paid out in 200 $50 bills from an undercover FBI agent who was masquerading as an entrepreneur who wanted the councilman’s assistance in securing votes to expand the marijuana business zone as well as for protection from code enforcement related to a supposed marijuana transportation business.
In 2016, Wright and two of his council colleagues, Mayor Rich Kerr and Councilman John Woodard, correctly anticipated the passage of Proposition 64, which went beyond allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes to making the drug available to adults throughout the State of California for its intoxicative effect. They opportunistically sought to have the financially strapped Adelanto community improve its financial circumstance by having the city embrace the change in law while simultaneously personally cashing in on the marijuana bonanza.
By early 2017, Kerr had announced the council majority’s intention to transform Adelanto into the “marijuana capital of the United States.” It was in that atmosphere that Wright sloppily engaged in actions that have now put him into federal custody.
Representing himself as an individual established in the marijuana trade who wanted to relocate his marijuana business to Adelanto, an FBI agent told Wright that he was interested in using a property outside of the city’s industrial park, the zone designated by the city for marijuana businesses, as the new base for his business. The agent specifically wanted Wright’s assistance in expanding the area where a marijuana transportation business would be permitted to an area outside the industrial park.
During a meeting in June 2017, Wright said that “to obtain the necessary votes from the Adelanto City Council for the expansion of the area zoned for marijuana cultivation, Undercover Agent 1 would have to purchase Wright’s vote,” according to an FBI affidavit to obtain Wright’s arrest. After Wright said that his “price” was “20” – interpreted by the undercover agent to be $20,000 – Wright said a “donation” had to be made to a third party “because he keeps us out of jail.” The identity of the third party is not provided in the affidavit.
The informant told Wright that the undercover agent was arranging to rent a property from the informant which was outside of the approved marijuana business zone. Wright told the informant that the undercover agent would need an “exemption” that would allow the undercover operative to operate a marijuana transportation business there, and that if the undercover agent wanted the exemption, then Wright wanted his “ten.”
In mid-July 2017, the Adelanto City Council approved the expansion of the marijuana zone, with Wright voting in favor of the change. After the city council action, the undercover agent sought Wright’s assistance in fast-tracking an approval for the purported marijuana business, which Wright agreed to do in exchange for “15.”
At a meeting with the undercover agent and the informant, which took place in October 2017, Wright took a $10,000 bribe from the undercover agent. After taking the bribe, Wright confirmed that he would assist with code enforcement and votes. Wright also said he could curtail code enforcement activities against the marijuana transportation business, but it would require a “stack” – which Wright identified as $2,000 – each time Wright interceded.
In the second scheme, in August 2017, Wright sought the informant’s assistance in finding someone to burn down Fat Boyz Grill, his restaurant in Adelanto. In late September, Wright asked the informant to pass his cell phone number to the “electrician,” the term Wright used in referencing the arsonist he was seeking to hire, which was an indication Wright wanted the cause of the fire to appear to be an electrical problem.
Wright met the “electrician” – actually a second undercover FBI agent – on October 3, 2017 and said he wanted the fire on the following Saturday when the sprinkler system would be turned off. After Wright assured the undercover agent that his insurance policy covered everything, the “electrician” agreed to do the job for $1,500. At a meeting three days later, Wright paid the $1,500 after the undercover agent told Wright he needed more time to prepare for the job.
Wright also gave the agent a tour of the restaurant and assisted in the planning of the arson by providing a ladder for the undercover agent and discussing various tactics to ensure the planned arson would be a success.
On October 17, 2017, before the arson job was fulfilled, FBI agents executed a federal search warrant at the restaurant and interviewed Wright. According to the FBI affidavit for Wright’s arrest, Wright confessed to paying the undercover agent to burn down Fat Boyz Grill and that the would-be arsonist assured him that “this place be gone.” The FBI, without disclosing to Wright that the “electrician” was actually an FBI agent working undercover, told Wright that the “electrician” was providing agents with information about the scheme. After he confessed to the attempted arson plot, Wright agreed to cooperate with the FBI’s investigation into corruption in the City of Adelanto, which included agreeing to surreptitiously use a recording device and maintaining the confidentiality of the investigation.
The very next day, October 18, 2018 the informant, referred to as a “confidential human source” in the FBI affidavit, reported to the FBI that Wright, who had not yet put together that the informant was cooperating with the FBI, approached him, telling him about the FBI’s serving of the search warrant on the restaurant, and said that the so-called electrician was a “snitch.” Wright requested the informant’s assistance in making the electrician “go away,” according to the affidavit. “The confidential human source reported to the FBI Wright was soliciting the confidential human source’s assistance to have undercover agent 2 murdered,” according to the FBI affidavit, which related that the informant was unable to record Wright making that request because “Wright had approached the confidential human source without advance notice. The confidential human source was not able to record the conversation due to the impromptu nature of the contact.”
When the FBI arranged to have the informant broach with Wright the subject of bringing about the demise of the undercover agent representing himself as the electrician in a circumstance in which Wright’s utterances could be recorded, Wright was suggestive but not explicit. According to the affidavit, Wright said, “I am already in enough hot water as it is. You brought shit to my door. Do whatever you do to get shit off my door. I have a defense attorney that can beat anything. The shit has to go away from my front door. They [the FBI] want to flip me and … this is all they have on me. Whatever you do don’t come back to you and doesn’t come back to me, and I don’t give a fuck what happens. I really don’t, but this shit needs to be cleaned up.”
Wright also attempted on October 23, 2017 to hatch a plot with the informant to stage an assault on Wright himself to make the FBI drop the case against him. In November 2017, Wright reported that he had been assaulted. The circumstances of the alleged assault were consistent with the staged assault that Wright discussed with the informant.
With Wright having shown himself intent on having the undercover FBI agent killed, the FBI was not able to utilize Wright in its operations against other members of the city council and the marijuana/cannabis entrepreneurs who were bribing them.
Assistant United States Attorney Sean D. Peterson of the Riverside Branch Office prosecuted the case.
Evidence suggests that Wright was not the only Adelanto official to personally profit from the city’s move to liberalize marijuana availability and commercial activity in the city. Councilman Woodard, a real estate agent, is known to have arranged sales and accepted commissions on properties sold to purchasers who ultimately used the properties for commercial cannabis activity after Woodard and his colleagues changed the zoning on the property to allow that activity to take place.
In August 2021, former Mayor Kerr was arrested by the FBI and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with receiving in excess of $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks from cannabis/marijuana entrepreneurs doing business in Adelanto.