On August 4, former Adelanto, California mayor Richard Kerr was found guilty of taking cannabis-related bribes while in office. According to coverage from the Los Angeles Times, Kerr was sentenced to federal prison for 14 months.

Initially, federal prosecutors sought to sentence Kerr to 46 months, but U.S. District Judge John W. Holcomb reconsidered the sentence because of Kerr’s age at 66 years old, in addition to his two decades of service in the Marines, as well as family-related responsibilities.

Kerr was elected as Adelanto’s mayor in 2014, a small desert city in southwestern San Bernardino County. Kerr claimed that 40% of Adelanto residents lived in poverty at the time (as of data from 2014-2018, that percentage has decreased to 26.5%) and he wanted to make the city the “Silicon Valley of medical marijuana.”

In 2017, Kerr was arrested by federal officials for taking a $10,000 cash bribe, and also trying to find someone to burn down his restaurant (called Fat Boyz Grill) so he could collect the insurance. The following year in 2018, Kerr’s house was raided by the FBI and he was seen in handcuffs outside of his home.

Later in 2021, he was charged with accepting $75,000 in bribes while in office, which influenced approval for cannabis-related ordinances and permits.

Finally in February 2023, Kerr pleaded guilty to fraud. The most recent case revealed that he considered bribery funds as donations to a charity fund.

Carlos L. Juarez, Kerr’s attorney, defended his client by claiming that he didn’t have a college education and was naïve. “He did his darnedest to serve the people but along the way got caught up in a web of political corruption,” Juarez stated. 

Kerr called his actions the result of “stupidity” and “doing dumb things.” However, he praised how the cannabis industry benefited the city, bringing “thousands of jobs and hundreds of new homes.”

However, U.S. Attorney Sean Peterson addressed the seriousness of Kerr’s actions. “It’s not that there was just one bribe. It’s serious conduct,” Peterson said, asking the judge for Kerr to serve four years in prison as an example of the consequences for others who choose a similar path.

Many witness came forth to discuss Kerr’s behavior. One local, Edwin Snell, said that Kerr promised him and his partner that they would be permitted to open a dispensary in the city, but Kerr sold the permit “to the highest bidder.” “He promised us a dispensary and Semper Fi’d it,” said Snell. “Every person that voted for him was betrayed. Every person that voted for him was hornswoggled.”

Another resident, Diana Esmeralda Holte, said in 2017 that she applied for a dispensary license, but her attempt was rejected because she wouldn’t pay a $7,000 bribe. “I think he deserves a million years, but 20 would be reasonable,” Holte said.

In his defense, Juarez said the court case and ruling is “a complete embarrassment to Kerr.” While once well-renowned and respected in the community, he has brought his family name to shame,” he described.

Kerr’s supporters wrote letters to the judge, explaining that he grew up in poverty, has issues with alcohol, suffers from emphysema (a lung disease that causes breathlessness), and supports five of his grandchildren. Kerr’s wife in particular spotlighted his more positive decisions as mayor, which included movies in the park, a public rodeo event, and food and toy drive donations during the holidays.

Former Adelanto mayor pro tem Jermaine Wright was convicted in 2022 for accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover federal official claiming to be a cannabis business owner. Wright was sentenced to five years in prison.

A recent podcast called “Dreamtown: Adelanto,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, covers the city’s history and corruption, as well as Kerr’s involvement in the cannabis industry. “…reporter David Weinberg delves into what happened when a newcomer on the local council helped the city legalize weed production, and documents the fallout that happened next,” wrote High Times author Molly Lipson.

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