Kerr To Plead Guilty To Taking Bribes From Adelanto Marijuana Merchants

Former Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr yesterday, Thursday January 12, agreed to plead guilty to a federal criminal charge of accepting more than $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for approving ordinances authorizing commercial marijuana activity within the city and ensuring his co-schemers obtained city licenses or permits for their commercial marijuana activities, the Justice Department announced today.
Kerr, whose full name is Richard Allen Kerr, 65 of Adelanto, acknowledged guilt on a single count of honest services wire fraud, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.United States District Judge John W. Holcomb scheduled a February 17 change-of-plea hearing for Kerr.
According to his plea agreement, based on his mayoral status, Kerr owed a duty of honest services to the city and its residents. Among other things, Kerr voted on ordinances governing zoning regulations in the city, and served on the city’s cannabis dispensary permit committee, which set the number of dispensary permits that would be issued, and determined which applicants would receive a dispensary permit.
From at least November 2015 to June 2018, Kerr executed a scheme to deprive the city of the honest performance of his duties as mayor, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Kerr secretly used his official position to enrich himself and his co-schemers by passing ordinances authorizing various types of commercial marijuana activities, including marijuana cultivation, marijuana distribution and transportation, and retail sales of marijuana via a dispensary, prosecutors maintain.
Kerr also voted to approve the drafted zones for commercial marijuana activities to include locations used by his supporters, ensured his supporters obtained the licenses or permits they sought; all in violation of conflict-of-interest prohibitions, in exchange for bribes, kickbacks, gifts, payments, and other things of value.
Among Kerr’s co-schemers was David Serrano, an attorney and the owner of the Jet Room marijuana dispensary that has been established in Adelanto. Through his law firm, Serrano paid Kerr $35,000 in the days, weeks and months before and after Kerr voted to confer upon the Jet Room permits and licenses to sell marijuana from its 17499 Adelanto Road address, including expanding the city’s marijuana sales zones to include the district where the dispensary is located. Serrano is identified in court documents as “Person A.”
Another person involved in Kerr’s illegal activity was Manny Serrano, the spokesman for the High Desert Cannabis Association and the brother of David Serrano, identified as “Person C.”
The bribes and kickbacks were disguised by Kerr and his co-schemers as gifts, donations to a charitable fund, donations to Kerr’s election campaign, or advance payments for the proceeds of planned litigation associated with a motorcycle accident.
On September 22, 2016, David Serrano and his wife, Julia Orama-Serrano, initiated the purchase of the 2.23 acre lot and existing structure at 17499 Adelanto Road, the northeast corner of Adelanto Road and Joshua Avenue from the owner, Dmitri Manucharyan, entering into escrow on October 3, 2016. The transaction was completed on October 11, 2016. David Serrano, who was affiliated with, variously, the Law Offices of David Serrano and the San Bernardino Professional Lawyers Group, had declared his intention of transforming the structure on the property, which had formerly been a tavern known as the Jet Room that had done a brisk business among airmen more than two decades previously before George Air Force Base was shuttered in 1992 but which had thereafter lain fallow, into a law office.
On October 26, 2016, the Adelanto City Council gave initial approval to Ordinance 553, which allowed medical marijuana dispensaries into the City of Adelanto. Because of a series of delays, the ordinance did not come up for a second confirming vote it needed to go into effect until May 2017. Prior to that second reading of the ordinance, on November 29, 2016, the city council held a public discussion relating to the pending passage of Ordinance 553 allowing the sale of medical marijuana in Adelanto, in particular the boundaries of the city’s marijuana dispensary overlay zones, which were to govern where dispensaries could be located. As a result of that discussion, the council articulated the intent to expand the marijuana dispensary overlay zone to include the  property at 17499 Adelanto Road. The same day, November 29, 2016, David Serrano’s wife, Julia Orama-Serrano, cut Kerr a $5,000 check drawn against the Law Offices of David Serrano Real Estate Trust Account at the Bank of America, with the designation “Adv Xmas Fund” in the memo line.
On January 14, 2017, while Kerr was riding his own dirt bike and being trailed by his children and grandchildren outside Stater Bros. Stadium in Adelanto during the Adelanto Grand Prix event being held inside the Stater Bros. Stadium, his front wheel hit a soft spot in the dirt, and he was thrown from the cycle. Kerr broke his left collarbone, cracked several ribs and suffered a partially collapsed lung in the accident.
Kerr retained David Serrano’s s law firm to prepare a potential lawsuit against the sponsors of the Adelanto Grand Prix event.
On February 27, 2017, a check for $10,000 was made out to Kerr against the San Bernardino Professional Lawyers Group account bearing the indication “Plaintiff Advance” in the memo line.
On May 17, 2017, a revised version of Ordinance 553 relating to allowing marijuana sales to take place in Adelanto, which updated the version of the ordinance first voted upon on October 26. 2016, was given its first reading, passing by a vote of 3-to-1, with Kerr voting in support of the ordinance. That version of the ordinance included a general plan amendment, which expanded the marijuana dispensary overlay zone to include the Jet Room property in the district where the operation of marijuana dispensaries is permitted.
On May 24, 2017, the second and final reading of and the vote on the revised version of Ordinance 553 took place at that evening’s city council meeting, passing 3-to-1. That vote included the acceptance of the dispensary overlay zones in which the Jet Zone property was included. Kerr again supported the ordinance allowing the operation of marijuana dispensaries in the city and ratifying the marijuana dispensary overlay zones, which included the Jet Room property.
At the same May 24 meeting, the city council passed Resolution 17-12 on a unanimous 5-to-0 vote, establishing the Adelanto Cannabis Dispensary Permit Committee to be charged with determining which applicants for medical marijuana dispensary permits would be granted what was then supposed to be a limit of four such permits.
On June 16, 2017, another check for $10,000 written against the San Bernardino Professional Lawyers Group account was made out to Kerr, bearing “Advance” in the memo line.
On August 23, 2017, then-City Manager Gabriel Elliott publicly announced how the Adelanto Cannabis Dispensary Permit Committee created by the passage of Resolution 17-12 on May 24 of that year was to be fleshed out. The committee, Elliott said, would consist of the mayor and the mayor pro tem, the city planner and two members of the public to be chosen by the city manager. That same day, August 23, 2017, a check was written for $10,000 against the San Bernardino Professional Lawyers Group account to Kerr.
Between March 9, 2015, and November 6, 2017, there were 30 deposits into Kerr’s US Bank 0917 account, primarily cash, totaling $21,757. In this same timeframe, Kerr’s wife, Mistey, was collecting “donations” from the public for a never fully specified charitable cause. Much of the money provided to her during this time consisted of cash-stuffed envelopes provided to her while she was in attendance at the city council meetings her husband was presiding over. On March 17, 2017, Kerr opened another account at US Bank, with an account number ending 9895. Beginning in August 2017 and running until October 12, 2017, Kerr deposited $32,500 in checks made out to “Re-elect Rich Kerr Mayor of Adelanto 2018”  from various businesses and business owners in Adelanto into that account. On October 4, 2017, Kerr transferred $22,580.25 from the 9895 account into a third US Bank account, which was designated as Kerr’s official 2018 campaign account, otherwise known as “Richard Kerr DBA Committee to Reelect Richard Kerr,” which bore an account number ending 5129. In the months of October and November 2017, which were roughly one year before the next election for Adelanto mayor, Kerr withdrew $4,980 from his campaign account, using the money for what appears to have been non-campaign related living expenses.
On January 14, 2019, Kerr, represented by two attorneys from David Serrano’s Professional Lawyers Group, Keith Adesko and Philip Rios, filed suit against Malcolm Smith Racing, American Motorcycle Association, Grand Prix Series, So. Cal. M.C. and Adelanto Grand Prix, alleging they were collectively and individually responsible for injuries he had sustained when he was involved in the motorcycle crash at the Adelanto Grand Prix two years previously. The lawsuit was filed on the last day before California’s two-year statute of limitations on civil suits elapsed.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “In exchange for the bribes and kickbacks, Kerr provided favorable official action on behalf of the city to Person A, Person C, and other co-schemers with business interests in the city by authorizing various types of commercial marijuana activities, ensuring his supporters obtained the licenses or permits they sought, and interfering with enforcement activities by city officials.
In May 2018, the FBI conducted a raid on Kerr’s home and at Adelanto City Hall. On August 13, 2022 Kerr was arrested by the FBI on a federal grand jury indictment alleging he accepted more than $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for approving ordinances authorizing various types of commercial marijuana activity within the city, and ensuring his co-schemers obtained city licenses or permits authorizing certain commercial marijuana activities. He was taken into federal custody without incident and charged with seven counts of honest services wire fraud and two counts of bribery.
Assistant United States Attorneys Sean D. Peterson, chief of the Riverside Branch Office, and Julius J. Nam of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, prosecuted the case against Kerr.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply