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Exorbitant Cannabis Bribes Lead to Arrest of Former California Mayor

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A former California mayor was arrested last week after being indicted by a federal grand jury over allegations that he accepted thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks related to commercial marijuana activity.

Richard Kerr, who served as mayor of Adelanto, California from 2014 until 2018, was taken into custody on Friday by FBI agents. He was indicted on allegations that “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,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

The indictment asserts that Kerr “voted on ordinances governing zoning regulations in the city and served on Adelanto’s Cannabis Dispensary Permit Committee, which determined the number of dispensary permits that would be issued and which applicants would receive them.”

It is the latest instance of Kerr finding himself under federal scrutiny, and the second time a top official from Adelanto has been accused of such a pot-related conspiracy. According to the Los Angeles Times, “federal agents served search warrants on Kerr’s home, City Hall and a local marijuana dispensary,” while “then-Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright was charged with a similar scheme” in 2017.

In 2016, while Kerr was still serving as mayor of Adelanto, California voters passed a measure legalizing recreational marijuana use, paving the way for a regulated market.

The Department of Justice said that, in his capacity as mayor, Kerr “supported marijuana legalization, voted in favor of an ordinance authorizing marijuana cultivation in the city, voted in favor of an ordinance authorizing the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries, and voted to authorize the distribution, transportation and testing of medical marijuana, among other commercial marijuana activities. At the same time, Kerr secretly used his official position to enrich himself and his co-schemers by passing these same ordinances, according to the indictment.”

He is said to have “drafted zones for commercial marijuana activities to include locations used by his co-schemers, and he ensured they obtained the licenses and permits they sought—in exchange for bribes, kickbacks and gifts.”

Kerr’s alleged co-conspirators are described as “a lawyer who specialized in plaintiffs’ tort litigation—identified in the indictment as ‘Person A’ – and two individuals—labeled ‘Person C and ‘Person D’—who had business interests in the city, including those involving marijuana cultivation.”

“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,” the Department of Justice said. “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.”

The DOJ provided two specific examples of Kerr’s alleged activity, one occurring in 2016 and the other in 2017. The first centered around a public discussion conducted by the Adelanto City Council in November of that year, where the officials addressed so-called “overlay zones” where medical cannabis dispensaries would be located.

“The initial proposal included two zones, neither of which included a former restaurant—purchased two months earlier by Person A and his spouse. During the discussion, Kerr requested a change in the boundaries of the second overlay zone, which expanded the zone to include Person A’s business. The plans for the business initially called for the building to be an attorney’s office, although they included items such as ‘elongated sales counters,’ a ‘dispensing room,’ ‘cashier,’ and ‘security room,’” according to the indictment, as described by the DOJ.

On December 5 of that year, Kerr allegedly deposited a check that had the same date as when the meeting was held “from Person A’s real estate trust account into his bank account, and the check’s memorandum line read, ‘ADV XMAS FUND,’” the DOJ said.

It was also reported that in May 2017, the former Adelanto mayor also voted two times in support of a city ordinance that favored the marijuana dispensary overlap zone in which Person A’s business was to be located in. “In February, June and August of 2017, Kerr deposited three $10,000 checks from Person A’s law firm, with the memorandum lines of each check stating, ‘ADVANCE,’” according to the DOJ.

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