Former Upland Mayor’s Plea Deal Could’ve Been a Lot Worse . . . For Him
By Jesse B. Gill
All Inland Empire cities whose mayor didn’t plead guilty to bribery, please step forward.
Not so fast, Upland.
The joke’s probably not funny to Upland residents (or, let’s be honest, anyone else) since they’re still dealing with the fallout of having a mayor who extorted money from businesses in the city.
Well, we know for sure that he at least took money from one business because he says he did on April 27 in federal court. That day, former Upland former John Pomierski, 58, admitted to taking money from a business in exchange for helping cut through red tape at City Hall.
But he only admitted to one count of bribery.
One count. Out of 10 . . . but the U.S. Attorney’s Office seems pretty satisfied with that number.
“The case involving Mr. Pomierski has been resolved in a way we believe suits the interests of justice,” says Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Through the plea, Pomierski admitted to accepting $5,000 from Chronic Tacos Cantina, a business that still has an outstanding lawsuit stemming from the allegations against the now-former mayor.
But that leaves nine other bribery counts federal prosecutors leveled against Pomierski that will likely go completely unanswered as a result of the plea bargain he took.
Between 2007 and late 2010, Pomierski—joined by co-conspirators John Hennes, Anthony Orlando Sanchez and Jason Roy Crebs—conducted a scheme that made them $45,000 richer, after dipping into the pockets of local businesses, according to an indictment filed in September 2010 by a federal grand jury.
Pomierski hounded the owners of now-closed Chronic and Upland Market Place for money, according to the indictment. In return, he greased the wheels at City Hall, making it easier for the businesses to, you know, do business.
Of course, federal prosecutors are patting themselves on the back, regardless of the fact that Pomierski’s guilty plea still leaves $40,000 on the table, unaccounted for.
“The public is entitled to honesty and integrity from the elected officials whom they entrust with power,” U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. says in a prepared statement that managed to say pretty much nothing but used a lot of words to do it.
“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,” Birotte continued, determined to tell us stuff we already knew. “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.”
Pomierski is yet to be sentenced—that comes Aug. 6.
He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but such a heavy-handed sentence seems unlikely for a guy who only admitted to accepting a $5,000 bribe. At a minimum, Pomierski faces an 18-month sentence.
I reached out to Pomierski’s San Clemente-base attorney, H. Dean Steward, to see if he, by way of the plea bargain, was able to make a sentencing recommendation. That’s how many plea bargains work: You admit to X charge and in return, you get Y consideration when it comes to sentencing.
Steward ignored a couple of phone messages and an email, but Mrozek managed to call me back and break everything down.
“It’s hard to say what’s common and what’s uncommon,” Mrozek says. “A federal bribery case is not a terribly common offense, fortunately.
“It is a regular occurrence that a grand jury issues an indictment that makes various allegations and for the case to be resolved through an agreement between prosecutors. That is extraordinarily common.”
And that’s because prosecutors are just like anyone else, he says. They want a guaranteed conviction. A plea bargain gives them that without exposing their case to the rigors and risk of a full-blown trial.
And taking a look at the plea agreement led me to that same conclusion, or at least it did after Mrozek walked me through it, what with being all full of those big words lawyers are so fond of.
The agreement sets what is called a “base offense level,” which warrants a certain amount of years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines. Pomierski’s base offense level, as set by the plea agreement, will be no less than a 15. A base level 15 offense level warrants a prison sentence of 18 to 24 months, according to the federal guidelines.
So, based on Pomierski’s plea agreement, federal prosecutors and Steward more or less decided that an 18 to 24-month prison sentence was reasonable based on Pomierski’s admission of accepting the $5,000 bribe.
But that number really serves as a recommendation to the sentencing judge, who will also consider other factors and recommendations before making a final call on how long the former Upland mayor will sit behind bars.
So I guess we’ll find out in August what kind of Pomierski is really looking at. Is it possible that Pomierski and his buddies will see their maximum sentences? Sure, but it’s not looking all that likely, if you’re looking at the deal Pomierski signed his name to.
As for the other bribery counts the grand jury filed against him? Well it’s likely they will just fall away, Mrozek says, but that, too, will be up to the judge.
“I anticipate that the remaining charges will be dismissed when (Pomierski) is sentenced,” he says.
So we’ll wait and see what the sentencing judge has in store for Pomierski, but even when that decision is made, the city will still be forced to deal with the fallout based on his actions, both the ones he admitted to and those he allegedly committed.
Remember that lawsuit filed against the city by Chronic Tacos Cantina? Yeah, well, they’re seeking $6.1 million. Even if the city wins, Upland residents will be paying the attorney fees for years.
I think it’s safe to say that after Pomierski’s paid his debt to society, he may want to find a new city.
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