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Former Upland mayor indicted in extortion, bribery

John Pomierski is accused of extorting money and campaign contributions from two businesses seeking city permits. A business associate who allegedly acted as a go-between is also charged.

March 04, 2011|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Upland Mayor John Pomierski leaves the federal courthouse in Riverside after pleading not guilty to extortion and bribery charges. First elected mayor in 2000, he resigned last week.
Former Upland Mayor John Pomierski leaves the federal courthouse in Riverside… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

A federal grand jury has indicted former Upland Mayor John Pomierski on extortion and bribery charges in an alleged scheme to extort money and campaign contributions from two businesses seeking city permits and other government approvals, officials announced Thursday.

Pomierski, 56, using intermediaries, allegedly demanded $70,000 in payments from the owners of an Upland nightclub and a medical marijuana cooperative to help them obtain the required permits starting in 2007, according to the indictment.

In one case, Pomierski — at the business owner's request — urged the fire chief not to require fire sprinklers in the establishment, the indictment states.

Also indicted was one of Pomierski's business associates, John Edward Hennes of Upland, who allegedly acted as a go-between for the deals, the indictment alleges. Hennes, 54, also is a member of the city's building appeals board and owns a local contracting company.

Pomierski surrendered to federal authorities Thursday morning. Wearing a suit and shackled in handcuffs and leg irons, he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Oswald Parada in Riverside and pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was later released on $75,000 bond.

Pomierski resigned as mayor of the suburban San Bernardino County city last week, eight months after FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents searched his home, Upland City Hall and several local companies with business ties to the politician. He was first elected mayor in 2000.

Pomierski's attorney, David W. Wiechert, declined to discuss the allegations after the hearing, but said that the former mayor is a proven fighter.

If convicted on all charges, Pomierski faces a maximum 145 years in prison and Hennes faces up to 50 years in prison.

The mayor's indictment only adds to the turmoil in the city of 76,000 where, within the last year, the city manager was placed on administrative leave related to a domestic disturbance incident. In the midst of that controversy, the chief of police took a personal leave for health reasons.

According to the 11-count indictment, returned Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Riverside, Pomierski "would demand money from the owners of businesses located in the city of Upland in exchange for the performance of official acts in connection with Upland city government business and transactions."

Hennes and other co-conspirators would enter into "consulting agreements and contracts" with businesses being targeted to "disguise and conceal" the payments from the business owner to Pomierski, the indictment states.

Hennes was arrested by FBI agents without incident Thursday morning. He also pleaded not guilty and was released on $50,000 bond. Two other men implicated in the alleged scheme have reached plea agreements.

"The allegations against Mr. Pomierski indicate that he intended to enrich himself by engaging in conduct that tarnishes all public officials," U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.

Aaron Sandusky, owner of the medical marijuana cooperative G3 Holistics in Upland, said that one of Pomierski's representatives demanded $20,000 from the cooperative to suspend the city's efforts to close the business. Sandusky said he paid $10,000 to Hennes, but refused to pay the remainder.

"It's hard enough to run a business, let along this kind of business," Sandusky said. "When this happens, where do I go? The police? The FBI? I'm in the medical marijuana business. I'm an easy target."

Sandusky said he later cooperated with the FBI.

The indictment lists the two businesses allegedly targeted by Pomierski's extortion scheme as "Business A" and "Business B," with Sandusky confirming that "Business B" was his cooperative. The indictment further states that Business A's conditional-use permit was revoked by the City Council on April 13 — the day the city shut down the nightclub, Chronic Cantina.

Pomierski is the owner of JP Construction Co., which received at least $90,000 in income from Hennes' company, J.H. Builders in Upland, over the last decade, according to the mayor's financial disclosure forms.

On Monday, Councilman Ray Musser was appointed as the city's new mayor by his colleagues and is pushing for a slate of ethical reforms.

"They made a lot of bad choices," Musser said Thursday of Pomierski and Hennes, "but we need to move on."

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