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At St. Joseph Health, St. Mary's hospital in Apple Valley, a somber Wright sat on a hospital bed in a hallway where he didn't appear to be getting treated at the moment. He didn't look an agent in the eye, spoke quietly and took longer than usual to answer questions.Shea Johnson Staff Writer @DP_Shea
ADELANTO — Weeks before he was arrested to face two federal charges, Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright began, the FBI said, to contrive a strange plot: Hire someone to rough him up to the point where he loses his memory.
"So, how much is it going to cost to get my ass beat?" Wright, 41, reportedly told an FBI informant during a recorded Oct. 23 conversation. "(A)nd it needs to happen quickly though. Beat to the point where I have memory loss, all the rest of the stuff, they have to let me go ... I have a good-ass attorney."
The unusual inquiry came six days after two FBI agents served a federal search warrant at Wright's restaurant off Highway 395, Fat Boyz Grill, and confronted the policymaker over his alleged solicitation of an undercover agent to burn the place down so he could collect on the insurance money.
Wright was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of bribery and attempted arson and was being held without bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, jail records show. He appeared in federal District Court in Riverside on Wednesday afternoon, was granted a continuance by the judge and is expected to return to court Monday.
As the heat on Wright intensified since June, the mayor pro tem appeared to grow more desperate, purportedly telling an FBI agent he even had put a shotgun in his mouth. According to a sworn FBI affidavit, he believed a planned attack that would cause memory loss could shield him from pending criminal charges.
"What am I supposed to do?" he reportedly told an FBI informant with a lengthy criminal history dating back to 1995. "I am still underneath this federal bull [expletive]."
The assault would take place outside his restaurant in the pre-dawn hours; a rat would be placed next to him to make it seem as if the assailant had been angered he talked to the FBI; $500 or $600 would be put in his pocket as compensation to the paid attacker and to show signs of a robbery; and "(t)hey gotta hit me in the head."
"I am going to lose at least three months of memory or more," Wright told the informant, according to the affidavit.
But might a staged assault be dangerous?
"I am not asking you to kill me," Wright responded. "I am not asking you to beat me within an inch of my life."
In the early morning of Nov. 3, a San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy and County Fire personnel responded to the restaurant. Wright was lying on the ground near a barbecue in the parking lot without visible injuries.
He'd tell authorities his assailant tried to steal an audio recording device on him, now broken, which agents provided to record conversations "in furtherance of FBI's public corruption investigation in Adelanto," the affidavit said.
The suspect was a taller man who hit Wright over the right eye multiple times with an unknown object, he told an FBI agent who he requested, through the deputy, to come to the scene.
At St. Joseph Health, St. Mary's hospital in Apple Valley, a somber Wright sat on a hospital bed in a hallway where he didn't appear to be getting treated at the moment. He didn't look an agent in the eye, spoke quietly and took longer than usual to answer questions.
He told the agent he had been lying on the ground for two to three hours in the freezing cold before help arrived at 7 a.m. and wondered why FBI surveillance teams didn't stop to intervene, although agents said there were none in the area at the time.
He was also robbed of $2,000 to $3,000 cash out of his pocket, according to the affidavit. He always paid his employees in cash, he told an agent, and he routinely kept significant quantities of it around — apparently a habit he had learned from his mother.
Wright has told agents he did not accept a $10,000 cash bribe in return for political favor.
Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.