RIVERSIDE, California – Adelanto City Councilmember Jermaine Wright is expected to make his first court appearance this afternoon after being arrested yesterday on federal charges that allege he took a $10,000 cash bribe and that he hired a man to burn down his restaurant to collect insurance proceeds.
Jermaine Wright, 41, was arrested yesterday by FBI special agents after he was named in a criminal complaint filed on Monday that charges him with bribery and attempted arson of a building.
Wright's initial appearance will be this afternoon in United States District Court in Riverside.
The criminal complaint outlines two schemes. In the first, Wright allegedly solicited and accepted a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent who told Wright he wanted the councilmember's assistance in navigating city rezoning and code enforcement issues related to a supposed marijuana transportation business.
In the second scheme, Wright allegedly paid $1,500 to another undercover FBI agent to burn down his restaurant.
The investigation into Wright, which began as a probe into possible corruption in the City of Adelanto, utilized an informant who introduced Wright to both of the undercover FBI agents and recorded a series of conversations in which Wright discussed both plots, according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint filed on Monday.
Soon after the investigation began, the informant – who is identified in the affidavit as a CHS, or confidential human source – introduced Wright to a man who said he wanted to move his marijuana cultivation business to Adelanto. The man who purportedly wanted to relocate his marijuana business was an undercover FBI agent who told Wright he was interested in using a property outside of the zone designated by the city for marijuana cultivation. The undercover operative – who is called UC-1 in the affidavit – specifically wanted Wright's assistance in expanding the area where marijuana cultivation was permitted.
During a meeting in June, Wright said that “to obtain the necessary votes from the Adelanto City Council for the expansion of the area zoned for marijuana cultivation, UC-1 would have to purchase Wright's vote,” according to the affidavit. 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.”
In mid-July, the Adelanto City Council approved the expansion of the marijuana zone with Wright voting in favor of the issue.
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.”
Wright did not receive the $20,000 for his vote because the City Council's action occurred sooner than anticipated and the funds to pay the bribe were not available at the time, according to the affidavit. Wright similarly was not paid for his services in speeding up the permit process for the marijuana cultivation operation because it required the purchase of a property prior to paying the bribe. However, the informant later told the FBI that Wright was willing to take money in exchange for his help in securing an “exemption” that would allow the undercover operative to operate a marijuana transportation business.
After two meetings with the informant in which Wright discussed how the undercover agent could open a marijuana transportation business, Wright participated in a third meeting that also involved the undercover agent.
“During a meeting on October 6, UC-1 then placed $10,000 dollars on a box being used as a table, made up of two stacks of $50 bills, and told Wright, ‘that's for you, or your non-profit, whatever,'” according to the affidavit. “Wright responded, ‘my non-profit, yes sir, thank you sir.' Wright eventually placed the $10,000 in his pocket.”
After taking the bribe, Wright confirmed that he would assist with code enforcement and votes, according to the affidavit. 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, Wright sought the informant's assistance in setting fire to Wright's business, an Adelanto restaurant called Fat Boyz Grill. The affidavit alleges that Wright subsequently solicited a second FBI undercover agent (UC-2) to assist Wright in burning down his restaurant so he could collect $300,000 in insurance proceeds. Wright eventually paid the second undercover agent $1,500, 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 maximize the damage.
The informant first reported the arson scheme to the FBI in early August, according to the affidavit. In late August, the informant reported that Wright had again sought his assistance in finding someone to burn down Fat Boyz Grill. 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 the second undercover FBI agent – on October 3 and said he wanted the fire on the following Saturday when the sprinkler system would be turned off, according to the affidavit. After Wright assured the undercover agent that his insurance policy covers 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.
On October 17, FBI agents executed a federal search warrant at the restaurant and interviewed Wright. According to the affidavit, 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 told Wright that the “electrician” was providing agents with information about the scheme. The affidavit states that, after Wright 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 if requested by the FBI, tell the truth and maintain the confidentiality of the investigation.
The very next day, October 18, the informant reported to the FBI that Wright had called the informant, disclosed the FBI search warrant on the restaurant, and said that the so-called electrician was a “snitch.” Wright requested the CHS's assistance in making UC-2 “go away,” according to the affidavit.
Wright later contacted the informant and asked the informant to attack Wright. According to the affidavit, one of the reasons Wright wanted to be assaulted was to obtain “the dismissal of criminal charges due to memory loss Wright would claim he suffered as a result of the assault.” Wright instructed the informant to “put a rat next to me,” explaining that the FBI “would suspect someone has found out that I have talked to them [the FBI], and they're sending me a message.” According to the affidavit, Wright continued, “I am going to lose at least three months of memory or more.”
On the morning of November 3, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department received a call for medical aid from an employee at Fat Boyz Grill. When deputies responded, they observed Wright on the ground in the restaurant's parking lot being treated by firefighters. While he had no visible injuries, Wright was transported to a hospital, and he reported being attacked and robbed by an unknown assailant.
Wright was taken into custody yesterday by FBI agents after he was summoned for another interview.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
If Wright were to be convicted of the two charges in the complaint, he would face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the bribery count and up to 20 years in prison for the arson charge. The arson charge also carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years in prison.
The case against Wright is the product of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Sean D. Peterson of the Riverside Branch Office and Joseph B. Widman, Chief of the Riverside Branch Office.
Component(s): USAO – California, Central
Contact: Thom Mrozek Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer United States Attorney's Office Central District of California (Los Angeles) 213-894-6947
Press Release Number: 17-202 Updated November 8, 2017
Central District of California DOJ / 17-202 / November 8, 2017