A California Mayor Is Sent to Prison for Taking Bribes From Weed Companies
Cannabis businesses reportedly bribed the mayor of Adelanto to approve business licenses and local ordinances.
Published on August 11, 2023

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A California mayor has been sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for accepting bribes from cannabis companies. 

Former US Marine Richard Kerr was elected as the mayor of Adelanto, a small desert town located about 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles, in 2014. At the time, the city’s economy was largely supported by the prison industry and around 40% of its residents lived in poverty. Kerr promised that he would revitalize Adelanto’s economy by transforming it into the “Silicon Valley of medical marijuana,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

The mayor was apparently more interested in boosting his own personal finances, though. California law requires cannabis businesses to receive both state and local municipal licenses before they can open up shop. But instead of awarding approvals to the most qualified businesses, Kerr allegedly sold them to the highest bidder. The FBI raided his home and arrested him in 2018, and formally charged him with taking more than $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks in 2021.

Local community activist Edwin Snell described Kerr as a “very complex con artist” who used his reputation as a veteran to create a false sense of trust. “He promised us a dispensary and Semper Fi’d it,” he told the LA Times. “Every person that voted for him was betrayed. Every person that voted for him was hornswoggled.”

Diana Esmeralda Holte, another local who applied for one of Adelanto's four legal cannabis dispensary licenses, said that Kerr blocked her license because she wasn't willing to cough up a $7,000 bribe. In an interview conducted before the sentencing trial, Holte told the LA Times that “he deserves a million years, but 20 would be reasonable.”

Prosecutors ultimately requested that the judge sentence Kerr to 46 months in federal prison. The former mayor's family and supporters wrote letters in his defense, arguing that he was already 66 years old and suffering from emphysema. Kerr's attorney, Carlos L. Juarez, described Kerr as a “naive” veteran with no formal education who “did his darnedest to serve the people but along the way got caught up in a web of political corruption.”

To Kerr's credit, his plan did work out well for Adelanto. Legal medical marijuana businesses created hundreds of new jobs, boosted the economy, and raked in much-needed tax revenue. Between 2014 and 2018, the years that Kerr served as mayor, Adelanto's poverty rate decreased to 26.5%. The cannabis industry has brought jobs and tax revenue to every town, city, and state that has legalized weed, though, so the mayor certainly could have achieved those goals without accepting bribes.

This February, Kerr finally pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. At the sentencing hearing this month, US District Judge John W. Holcomb agreed to take the defendant's health and former military service into account and downgraded his sentence to 14 months. The former mayor's arrest didn't stop the pattern of cannabis corruption in Adelanto, though. Kerr's replacement, Mayor pro tem Jermaine Wright, was convicted of taking a $10,000 bribe from an FBI agent posing as a weed entrepreneur in 2022.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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