County Subsidizing Two Deputy Positions In Adelanto

With one former Adelanto City Councilman sitting in federal prison and his erstwhile colleague as mayor awaiting sentencing, both based on their efforts to profit from their city’s transition to a cannabis-based economy which they championed, federal officials are at a loss to understand why San Bernardino County officials are now subsidizing the city’s operations despite current officials’ insistence that they allowed City Hall’s once discredited marijuana-based revenue enhancement ploy through because it would cure the city’s financial woes.
There being no question that the past generation of Adelanto’s politicians were on the take from the marijuana industry that has now come to flourish in the 37,868-populations city, suspicion has now fallen on the current crop of elected officials running the city. Currently, with members of the board of supervisors and the county sheriff coming in to prop up municipal operations in Adelanto that should, based on the hefty marijuana sales and profit being achieved by the companies functioning there and the permits, fees and taxes those entities should be paying to put the city well into the black, DEA and FBI agents, to say nothing of members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, are wondering what the hell is going on.
Jermaine Wright, who was first elected to the Adelanto City Council in 2012, working with Richard Kerr, who was elected mayor in 2014, and John Woodard, who was elected to the council in 2014, were able to use the pretext of Adelanto’s tenuous financial circumstance to justify the bold move of defying the predominant ethos in San Bernardino County at that time, which had, with a lone exception, held the line against marijuana liberalization.The passage of 1996’s Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, Proposition 215, had allowed those with a medical prescription to obtain and use marijuana for palliative and prescribed medical use. Nevertheless, from the time of the Proposition’s passage until 2012, not one of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities nor the county itself would license a dispensary where medical marijuana could be purchased. Nor would any of those governmental entities permit the cultivation of marijuana to supply dispensaries or users. In 2012, the City of Needles, located at the county’s easternmost extreme on the shores of the Colorado River, licensed five dispensaries.
Kerr, Woodard and Wright, asserting that a huge profit could be turned by those growing the plant within indoor nurseries and that the city could impose hefty fees on those growers which would create a revenue stream that would cure the city’s financial woes, moved to go Needles one better and permit such uses to take place within a specified area of the city’s industrial zone. In late 2015, the first day that the city’s planning division began accepting applications for such operations, literally scores of applicants flooded into City Hall, dozens of whom were bearing briefcases stuffed with cash. The graftfest was on.
With 2016, the countdown toward the November passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Proposition 64, began. With that, Adelanto went from merely allowing nurseries grow marijuana to allowing dispensaries or pot shops to be set up as well as for companies to arrange to deliver marijuana and cannabis products door-to-door, laboratories to be established to refine marijuana into its constituent chemicals, and operations to produce cannabis and marijuana-based products such as liniments and edibles. Kerr arranged to hire a contract economic development director for the city, one whose assignment was to induce businesses, primarily ones involved in commercial marijuana or commercial cannabis entrepreneurships, into coming into the city. The contract for that economic development director, Jessie Flores, allowed Flores to accept employment or fees from any of the businesses he was negotiating with on behalf of the city. In this way, Flores could be the recipient, legally, of money provided by the cannabis or marijuana companies.
Creative ways of delivering money to Kerr, Wright and Woodard were devised. Woodard, a real estate agent was given fees on brokered deals for property that started out outside the areas zoned for commercial cannabis or commercial marijuana activity but eventually ended up inside those expanded zones. Wright received payments in cash and other forms. Kerr was provided with checks from a lawyer that were intended as payments for a future lawsuit settlement and his wife set up an unregistered charity which was the recipient of envelopes stuffed full of cash passed to her while she attended city council meetings.
Ultimately, Wright went down when in 2017 he accepted money from an FBI agent masquerading as a businessman looking to set up a marijuana distribution business in Adelanto who paid him $10,000 in marked $50 bills in exchange for his assurance the city’s regulators would not trip his company up. He was removed from office in early 2018 and was convicted in June 2022 and is now serving a five-year prison sentence.
In 2018, the FBI conducted a series of raids at Kerr’s home, office and City Hall, creating a degree of bad publicity for him and which, because of the close affiliation he and Woodard had with Wright, resulted in him and Woodard being voted out of office that year. Before that occurred however, he and Woodard succeeded in elevating Flores from contract economic development director to the position of city manager.
Early this year, Kerr accepted a conviction of accepting more than $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks in approving ordinances authorizing marijuana cultivation, transportation, and commercial sales in the city and ensuring his benefactors would obtain licenses or permits for cannabis businesses. His sentencing, which was scheduled for May, has been delayed.
The forced departure of Wright in early 2018 and the voters’ removal of Kerr and Woodard in November of 2018 did not, as many anticipated and Kerr’s and Woodard’s political opponents in 2018 suggested it would, result in the city’s abandoning of the effort to generate revenue by licensing and permitting a wide venue of marijuana/cannabis businesses in the city. The newly elected mayor who replaced Kerr in 2018, Gabriel Reyes, and the two council members that replaced Woodard and Charlie Glasper, the other councilman displaced that year, Stevevonna Evans and Gerardo Hernandez, were greeted by Flores, the city manager, who was able to convince them that the economic game plan that Kerr, Wright and Woodard had formulated and was at that point coming to fruition should be given the opportunity to fully manifest to create the economic reward that the city had been working toward for more than three years. California was on the cusp of a huge social transformation, which included the acceptance, as had been proven more than two years earlier by the passage of Proposition 64, of the use of marijuana as an intoxicant and social lubricant no different than alcohol, he told them. Adelanto was about to get in on the ground floor of California’s grand marijuanafication and it would be foolish to abandon the progress the city had made in putting itself into the position of advantage it held at that point, he said. Persuaded by the arguments of over a dozen business interests that likewise had a whole lot riding on Adelanto pushing ahead with Kerr’s 2016 statement to make Adelanto “the marijuana capital of California,” the new council decided to stay the course.
More than four years on, the promised bonanza has not come. Reyes, who was voted into office because of his own suggestions that he was going to rid the city of the corruption that had flourished under Kerr and his cohorts Wright and Woodard, remains in office. He has adopted the belief that Adelanto can transform itself using a marijuana economy, one in which as much as half of the city’s municipal revenue comes from licenses and fees and taxes on the growing, refining and sale of marijuana, as well as the manufacturing and sale of cannabis-based products. At this point, Kerr once predicted, Adelanto would be hauling in $50 million every year by simply hosting marijuana entrepreneurs and cannabis-related commercial establishments. The actual truth is the city’s coffers are not seeing as much as one-fiftieth of that.
The city plays the financial documentation it has about the marijuana-related and cannabis-related businesses it hosts very close to the vest. The city simply will not release those figures, even in the face of California Public Records Act requests.
One issue is that for the marijuana cultivation operations to flourish, two commodities are needed: water and electricity. The plants could be grown the old-fashioned way: out in the sun. But the city’s ordinance does not allow that. Under the city’s ordinances, they must be grown indoors, under lights. That requires electricity and the local electrical utility does not have the capacity to serve the businesses that the city has licensed. Nor is water available in Adelanto in the quantities envisioned by Kerr when he spoke of putting Adelanto at the head of the marijuana industry. Somehow, things got ahead of the city.
Yet, some businesses are making money. Products are being manufactured, either from marijuana grown in Adelanto or elsewhere. City officials are just unable – or unwilling – to say how much money is being generated by those operations and whether the percentage that is supposed to go to the city in licensing, fees, permits and taxes is actually being collected. There are reports that money – far less than the city is actually due but still a substantial amount – is being diverted into the pockets of public officials, both elected and un-elected.
Flores is still the city manager. Evans, who initially got along with Reyes after their 2018 election but had a falling out with him, sought to challenge him for mayor in 2022 and lost. She is no longer on the council. Hernandez, who suffered a near-death experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, left the council for that reason in 2020. The council is now composed of Reyes as mayor and council members Daniel Ramos, Joy Jeannette, Angelo Meza and Amanda Uptergrove.
Late last year, Adelanto officials gave indication that the city was facing fiscal challenges that were going to require financial discipline.
Early this year, as both the city and the county were awork on preparations for the 2023-24 budget, city officials informed county officials that because of the revenue shortfall the city was experiencing, it would need to reduce the contract it has with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services by two deputies over the number that were employed last year, effective July 1, 2023. That prompted the office of San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Leonard Hernandez, First District County Supervisor Paul Cook and Sheriff Shannon Dicus.
What Hernandez, Cook and Dicus wanted to know, essentially, was why.
The city, Flores responded, has grown accustomed over the last decade to income provided it by the GEO Group, which purchased 13 years ago a 1,940-bed correctional facility once owned by the city, now known as the Adelanto ICE Processing Center.
A reimbursement arrangement that went with that sale was an amount of money annually for two deputy positions. Those deputies were dedicated to patrolling 56-square mile Adelanto, specific crime reduction response, as well as handling any issues for service at the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center.
The GEO Group over the years has experienced problems with the federal government over certain standards at the facility. The federal government precipitously late last year and early this year, informed the GEO Group it would not be housing as many inmates there as it had previously and would no longer be paying the company for 1,455 beds per day as it had previously. This prompted GEO to cut back on its operations, including laying off 112 employees at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in April. On February 15 Mayor Reyes received a letter to that effect as did San Bernardino County Workforce Development Director Brad Gates.
Operations at the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center had already been greatly reduced. That was justification, the GEO Group said, to discontinue its reimbursement to the City of Adelanto for the two deputies.
In essence, the Geo Group withdrew about $460,000.
Adelanto contacted the sheriff’s department about the revenue shortfall and requested to remove the two positions from the upcoming contract renewal between the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the city effective July 2023.
Leonard Hernandez, Cook and Dicus took what Flores conveyed at face value. They served up no questions to him about why the city cannot tap into the revenue it previously stated it would be realizing from the thriving marijuana and cannabis commercial activity the city is hosting. Instead, a request was made of the entire board of supervisors to consider having the county subsidize, for one year, the City of Adelanto’s law enforcement function.
The supervisors acceded to funding two deputy positions for that duration, with the proviso that the city work out some way for it to pay for the crimefighters on its own starting on July 1, 2024, the initiation of fiscal year 2024-25.
The county will be covering the two-deputy price tag of roughly $461,296 for Adelanto in 2023-24, as the cost for employing a deputy and providing him with equipment and a patrol car is quantified at $230,648.
“With the number of [marijuana/cannabis-related] operations there are in that city, that doesn’t sound right to me,” a federal agent told the Sentinel. “A city that is putting in drug operation after drug operation like that as a means of generating revenue, should be able to pay its own way.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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