Update: Corruption Task Force Raids Palm Springs City Hall

Update: Corruption Task Force Raids Palm Springs City Hall

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The FBI and the District Attorney’s Office are involved in the probe.

Update: Corruption Task Force Raids Palm Springs City Hall

Update:

Investigators with the FBI and Riverside County District Attorney’s Office served search warrants at Palm Springs City Hall today, but declined to give specifics about the nature of the corruption investigation.

The search, which began around 9 a.m., forced the closure of City Hall, and many employees were sent home. Law enforcement personnel were stationed around the building while the warrants were served.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the warrants were obtained and served by the federal Inland Empire Public Corruption Task Force, which includes the Riverside and San Bernardino county district attorney’s offices and the Internal Revenue Service.

The search warrant affidavits were filed under court seal, Eimiller said, so no details of the investigation were released.

City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Ginny Foat said she was at a complete loss about what prompted the raid and she has been unable to reach the city attorney and city manager.

City employees were ordered to turn over their city-issued cell phones as part of the searches.

“I’ve never known anything to happen at City Hall that wasn’t above board,” she said. “I’m totally shocked. I heard about it on the news.”

Eimiller declined to say whether City Manager David Ready and City Attorney Douglas Holland were assisting authorities in the search but said that would not be unusual.

“Agents and task force partners would certainly rely on the cooperation of city employees as they search the location,” she said.

She said no arrests were anticipated as part of today’s actions and that the search warrant was limited to the confines of City Hall.

FBI agents also visited the home of Mayor Steve Pougnet in an attempt to collect some items listed in the search warrant, but there was no search of Pougnet’s residence, Eimiller said.

While no details were released about the target of the investigation, questions have swirled around the business relationship between Pougnet and developer Richard Meaney.

Pougnet admitted this year collecting more than $200,000 in consulting fees from Union Abbey, a firm owned by Meaney that has an expired business license and unpaid state tax liabilities, The Desert Sun reported.

Pougnet initially said his work for Union Abbey in recent years involved consulting on development work solely outside Palm Springs city limits, but he later conceded he played a role in advising the firm about Palm Springs’ economic development plans.

On May 5, the mayor said he mistakenly cast a vote to approve the sale of a city-owned parcel of land to another Meaney enterprise, at a cost that was far below market value, the newspaper reported.

Pougnet announced the following day he would not seek a third term as mayor.

The sale of the property was later rescinded.

Meaney still owns another, larger parcel of land he purchased from the city last year at a price that is also believed to have been well below market value. In the case of both sales, prices were based on sales of commercial properties elsewhere in the Coachella Valley — where values are typically lower than in Palm Springs — and the parcels were not put on the open market to allow other prospective buyers to bid up the price, the Desert Sun reported.

Both of the sale prices were also well below what taxpayers paid for them years earlier, according to the paper.

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission announced in mid-May it was investigating whether Pougnet violated the state’s political ethics law.

Pougnet has skipped every council meeting this summer and avoided virtually all public appearances, while still collecting his $3,650 a month government salary.

The mayor could not be reached for comment.

Earlier

PALM SPRINGS — Investigators with the FBI and Riverside County District Attorney’s Office served search warrants at Palm Springs City Hall today, forcing the closure of the building and sending employees home.

Lourdes Arocho of the FBI told City News Service she could not comment on the nature of the investigation because the search warrant affidavits are under seal.

An FBI spokeswoman at the scene told reporters the probe was being carried out by an Inland Empire public corruption task force.

Agents showed up at City Hall around 9 a.m. and began searching the building. Law enforcement personnel were stationed around the building while the warrants were served.