Former Adelanto City Councilman Jermaine Wright was found guilty by a jury of federal criminal charges for accepting a $10,000 cash bribe and hiring a man to burn down his restaurant so he could fraudulently collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance proceeds, the Justice Department announced today.
Wright, 46, of Riverside, was found guilty late Wednesday afternoon of one count of bribery of programs 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, a city located in San Bernardino County. 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, and for protection from code enforcement related to a supposed marijuana transportation business.
Representing himself as an individual established in the marijuana trade who wanted to relocate his marijuana business to Adelanto, the 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. The agent specifically wanted Wright’s assistance in expanding the area where a marijuana transportation business would be permitted.
Ultimately, the informant told Wright that the undercover agent would 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, and that if the undercover agent wanted the exemption, then Wright wanted his “ten.”
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” – so named because 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.
In October 2017, the FBI executed a search warrant at Fat Boyz Grill and interviewed Wright, who confessed to hiring the undercover agent to burn down the restaurant. The next day, the informant reported to the FBI that Wright had told the informant that the FBI had approached Wright, and that Wright requested the informant’s assistance in making the undercover agent “go away.”
Wright also attempted 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.
The FBI investigated the matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Sean D. Peterson of the Riverside Branch Office is prosecuting this case.