Kerr Handed A 14-Month Prison Term For His Bribery Conviction

Richard Kerr, the former Adelanto mayor who embarked on a mission in 2015 to transform the city he led into the “marijuana capital of California” to, he and his cronies maintained, save it from financial perdition, all the while taking money on the not-so-sly from those seeking lucrative cannabis-related business operating licenses, was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison this morning.
Kerr was a political neophyte who in November 2014 was elected as an alternative candidate in a “clean sweep” of three incumbents under whom efforts to redress dwindling municipal revenues in Adelanto had failed, leading the city to make a declaration of fiscal emergency in 2013, what was seen as a prelude to a filing for bankruptcy protection.
Using the city’s dire financial situation as a pretext, Kerr joined with John “Bug” Woodard, who was elected with him in 2014, and Jermaine Wright, who had been elected to the council in 2012, to push for allowing marijuana cultivation operations within a circumscribed area of the city’s industrial zone.
The trio at first indicated that the liberalization was to be a limited one that would confine itself to the growing of marijuana to be sold to dispensaries located outside the city and that no retailing of the drug would take place in the city.The day the city began to accept applications for those cultivation operation permits, scores of would-be growers or their representatives descended upon City Hall, such that the line that formed at the planning counter wound out the entrance and three quarters of the way around the building. Many of those applicants bore briefcases loaded with cash.
As things progressed, more than two dozen city employees, including three city managers, three city attorneys and multiple planning division professionals resigned over concerns that the city’s processes, standards and protocols were being violated in favor of accommodating those willing to make arrangements to share with city officials, meaning Kerr, Woodard and Wright, the proceeds from the businesses they were competing to set up.
With the dawn of 2016, the countdown toward that November’s passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Proposition 64, began. As a consequence, Adelanto went from merely allowing indoor nurseries to grow marijuana to permitting 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 settlement of a lawsuit the lawyer filed on his behalf over an injury he suffered during a motorcycle-riding mishap during a city-sponsored event. That lawyer, David Serrano, obtained clearance from the city to transform what had formerly been a nightspot known as the “Jet Room’ frequented by airmen from George Air Force Base into a marijuana and cannabis product emporium. Kerr’s wife, Misty, 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 $10,000 in marked $50 bills from an FBI agent masquerading as a businessman looking to set up a marijuana distribution business in Adelanto, giving the undercover G-man his assurance as he took the money that the city’s regulators would not interfere with the company. Wright 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 later that year. Before that occurred however, he and Woodard succeeded in elevating Flores from contract economic development director to the position of city manager. Flores remains in place and the city’s licensing of commercial marijuana and cannabis-related businesses continues.
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.
Kerr’s appearance in court in Santa Ana was somewhat reminiscent of his time in office, as he and his attorney, Carlos L. Juarez, sought, rather unconvincingly, to persuade U.S. District Judge John W. Holcomb that Kerr, a former Marine, had been well-intentioned during his sojourn into politics and that the effort to marijuanify Adelanto was a sincere strategy to put Adelanto on the road to economic recovery and not a ploy to enrich himself.
Juarez said that Kerr was trying “to serve the people,” but as a high school dropout wasn’t smart enough to avoid the temptations of “political corruption” that presented themselves to him once he assumed elective office. He sought to paint his client as “naive,” rather than mendacious.
In his statement, Kerr seemed to default to the misrepresentations he had engaged in when he was promoting the businesses that formed the basis for the kickback schemes he was participating in. He asserted that Adelanto had benefited from fees, taxes and jobs the marijuana-based and cannabis-based businesses brought it.
While the crime Kerr pleaded guilty to, one count of honest services wire fraud, carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, Assistant U.S. Atty. Sean Peterson asked Judge Holcomb to sentence the 66-year-old Kerr to 46 months in prison, which Petersen said would serve to dissuade others in California seeking to exploit the state’s laws allowing marijuana to be sold for both medical and intoxicative purposes.
Holcomb, however, imposed a sentence of less than a third of the duration Petersen asked for, saying he had considered Kerr’s age, health, service to his country as a Marine and the consideration that at present he is the sole breadwinner for five of his eight grandchildren.
-Mark Gutglueck

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