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Adelanto city councilman arrested on bribery, arson charges in FBI corruption probe

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Adelanto City Councilman Jermaine Wright, shown in 2016 at his Fat Boyz Grill restaurant, has been charged with accepting bribes and attempting to hire a man to burn down the business, prosecutors say.
(Getty Images)

An Adelanto city councilman has been accused of accepting bribes and asking an undercover FBI agent to burn down his restaurant so he could collect insurance payouts, according to a criminal complaint made public Wednesday.

Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright, 41, was arrested Tuesday night and will appear in federal court Wednesday after his arrest as part of an undercover corruption probe targeting misconduct in the city, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

Earlier this year, a confidential informant introduced Wright to an undercover FBI agent posing as the owner of a marijuana cultivation business, prosecutors said. Wright agreed to vote in favor of a measure expanding the parts of Adelanto where marijuana could be grown in exchange for $20,000, according to a criminal complaint.

Wright directed the undercover agent to make the “donation” through a third party, who was not identified in court documents. Wright said that man “keeps us out of jail,” according to the complaint.

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After the council vote, Wright also agreed to accept a $15,000 bribe in exchange for helping “fast track” the undercover agent’s proposal for a marijuana business, according to prosecutors.

Money did not change hands in either instance, prosecutors said, because the City Council acted faster than expected in both matters.

But during a meeting last month, the undercover agent provided Wright with $10,000 that was understood to be payment for the councilman’s future assistance with council votes that could benefit his fictional marijuana business, including the promise that Wright would keep code enforcement officers at bay in exchange for future cash payments, according to the complaint. Wright also agreed to help the agent get an exemption so he could run a marijuana transportation business outside the area zoned for cannabis cultivation, according to the complaint.

“If he wants his exemption, I want my ten,” Wright told an informant, according to the complaint.

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Wright has also confessed to a separate plot to hire another man, also an undercover FBI agent, to burn down a restaurant he owns called Fat Boyz Grill, prosecutors said. Wright stood to gain $300,000 in insurance payouts, prosecutors said.

During meetings that began in August, Wright asked the confidential informant for help burning down the restaurant, suggesting he wanted it to look like an electrical fire, according to the complaint. He later met with a second undercover FBI agent, and paid him $1,500 while giving him instructions on how to set the fire, the complaint said. Wright even hinted that it might be beneficial to damage other businesses in the same lot as the restaurant in order to deflect suspicion, according to the complaint.

“The less it looks like just me, fine. If three go, three go,” Wright said, referring to other properties in the lot, according to the complaint.

When confronted by FBI agents during a search of the restaurant on Oct. 17, Wright admitted to the arson plot and agreed to cooperate with the FBI’s continuing investigation into Adelanto corruption, prosecutors said.

The next day, Wright called the informant and asked for help in making one of the undercover agents “go away,” prosecutors said. He also tried to hatch a plot with the informant to stage an assault on Wright himself, hoping it would somehow result in the FBI dropping its case, according to the complaint.

Wright told the informant he wanted to be “beat to the point where I have memory loss, all the rest of the stuff, they have to let me go,” according to the complaint. He also suggested that the assailant should leave a rat next to his prone form so “they [the FBI] would suspect someone has found out I have talked to them,” according to the complaint.

Calls to Wright’s office, Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr and other members of the Adelanto City Council seeking comment were not immediately returned Wednesday morning. Wright is currently being represented by a federal public defender, who declined to comment on the case.

james.queally@latimes.com

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Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


UPDATES:

11:25 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the criminal complaint about the plots Wright was allegedly involved in.

This article was originally published at 10:05 a.m.


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