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Former Upland mayor pleads guilty in bribery scheme

John Pomierski, former mayor of Upland in San Bernardino County, becomes the third person convicted in a scheme to take bribes to help city businesses obtain permits.

April 27, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • John Pomierski, the former mayor of Upland, seen last year, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery involving a public official Thursday. He could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
John Pomierski, the former mayor of Upland, seen last year, pleaded guilty… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Former Upland Mayor John Pomierski faces up to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty Thursday to bribery and admitting to accepting $5,000 to help a business obtain a permit.

Pomierski, 58, became the third person to be convicted in the bribery scheme, in which he allegedly demanded about $70,000 in payments from the separate owners of a sports bar and a medical marijuana cooperative to help them obtain permits and eliminate other requirements beginning in 2007, according to federal prosecutors.

Pomierski eventually received $5,000 through a go-between in 2009 after an intermediary informed the owners of one business that the mayor would stop further delays on getting the business open.

Growing impatient for his money, Pomierski sent a text message to a cohort, who solicited the bribe: "Where's the beef?" read the message, according to court documents.

That co-conspirator, a local businessman named Jason Ray Crebs, replied shortly afterward that it was in hand and then gave him the $5,000, according to a federal indictment.

Pomierski on Thursday entered the guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in Riverside. It comes a year after he resigned and was indicted by federal prosecutors on multiple counts that could have resulted in a sentence of up to 145 years in prison.

Instead, he will be sentenced Aug. 6 on a single bribery count involving a public official; he could receive up to 10 years in prison.

"He is taking responsibility here. He has pretty much hit rock bottom," said H. Dean Steward, his attorney. "The guideline is 18 to 24 months, and he hoped to get a sentence in that range."

Crebs, 39, has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting bribery. He is slated for sentencing June 25 and also faces up to 10 years in prison.

Steward acknowledged that Pomierski recently filed for bankruptcy. The former mayor could also be fined up to $250,000. Pomierski remained free Thursday on $75,000 bond.

"The public is entitled to honesty and integrity from the elected officials whom they entrust with power," said U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. "Mr. Pomierski broke that trust when he decided to accept a bribe in return for a promise to circumvent the city's well-established permitting system.

"This kind of conduct is an affront to the voters who follow the law and play by the rules and who have a right to expect their elected officials to do the same."

John Edward Hennes, a member of the city's building appeals board, acted as a go-between for the deals, according to federal prosecutors' court filings. He communicated the extortion demands to the business owners, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Jerry Behke. Hennes has already pleaded guilty.

Pomierski owns 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 his financial disclosure forms.

Though prosecutors did not name the businesses involved, Aaron Sandusky, owner of the medical marijuana cooperative G3 Holistics in Upland, told The Times last year 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 a go-between but refused to pay the remainder.

"It's hard enough to run a business, let alone 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 business at the center of the conviction was indirectly identified by prosecutors in court documents as Chronic Cantina, a sports bar and restaurant. In court documents, they stated its conditional-use permit was revoked by the City Council on April 13, the same day the city shut it down.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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