A San Luis Obispo County real estate developer was arrested and charged with giving late SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill more than $95,000 in bribes and gifts in an elaborate corruption scheme that lasted at least three years, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.
Ryan Wright, 37, of Grover Beach is alleged to have conspired with a local attorney and a county supervisor, neither of whom were named by the DOJ, to exchange beneficial county decisions for financial benefits to the supervisor.
He is charged with with conspiracy, falsification of records and obstruction of justice and could face up to 35 years in prison.
The Tribune has independently confirmed the county supervisor was Hill, who also reportedly took bribes from former cannabis businessman Helios Dayspring.
Hill died by suicide in 2020 in the midst of the federal investigation.
The Department of Justice declined to name the local attorney as they have not yet been charged with a crime.
Wright, the former CEO of PB Companies who was previously known as Ryan Petetit, has a long criminal history dating back a decade and including jail time served for domestic violence.
He has pleaded not guilty to the crimes listed in the new federal indictment and is currently being held in federal custody without bond while awaiting a December trial, the DOJ said.
Late SLO County Supervisor Helped Plan Bribery Scheme, DOJ Says
The new federal indictment alleges that Wright conspired with the lawyer and the supervisor to “disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes” given to Hill.
Wright and his attorney co-conspirator created a consulting company to funnel payments to Hill, according to the indictment, and the consulting company allowed the conspirators to conceal the payments from the public and the city of San Luis Obispo.
Hill also provided false information on his economic interest form, a public document that elected officials are required to file, the indictment says.
Wright and his co-conspirator bribed Hill from at least June 2014 through May 2017, the indictment says, though it notes the bribery could have begun earlier.
The indictment shows the men mainly communicated via email and text, where they discussed payments, falsifying documents and creating the consulting company to cover up the bribes in several messages.
The first text in the indictment shows Wright offered to pay Hill $5,000 up front and $1,700 each following month using funds from Wright’s company. He also agreed to gift Hill a leased car from a Volvo dealership.
Much of the 2014 text messages revolve around a Marsh Street project that later became part of the larger San Luis Square project located at the site of the former Fosters Freeze restaurant. That project is currently under construction.
Projects Wright pushed Hill to seek approval on include the San Luis Square project, the Avila Ranch housing development, and Las Tablas Villas and Toad Creek Homes in Templeton, the indictment said.
Indictment Includes Emails and Texts
In one instance, the indictment says, Hill forwarded an email from another county supervisor speaking favorably of the Marsh Street project to Wright and wrote “Just so you see the value of my help … (Don’t pass on),” the indictment said.
In another, the indictment says, Wright told Hill the supervisor could make up to $250,000 per year and have “ongoing income forever,” to which Hill replied “I think (local attorney) is starting to understand my value.”
In another text, the indictment says, Hill thanked Wright for a $10,000 payment, to which Wright responded, “You earned it.”
As part of the payoff, the DOJ says Wright commissioned a semi-private jet to bring Hill to San Francisco to watch Hill’s “favorite baseball team,” the San Francisco Giants, play the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB National League Championship Series in October 2014.
The two had premium seats, which cost more than $1,000 each, and stayed in a luxury hotel at a price of nearly $800 per night. Wright used funds from the company he created with his co-conspirator, the indictment said.
In addition to the San Francisco trip, Hill also received a $43,020 Volkswagen sedan and several thousand dollars in cash payments. To conceal the scheme, the release said, Wright allegedly produced falsified records to the FBI in response to a federal grand jury subpoena served on his development company.
Former Developer Previously Arrested for Assault, Fraud
The federal charges are the most serious for Wright, who has been in trouble with the law multiple times over the last 10 years.
In 2013, he was charged with misdemeanor inflicting corporal injury, but the charge was dismissed for unspecified reasons in 2014.
In November 2015, Wright drunkenly smashed his girlfriend’s head through a glass window in a domestic violence incident four days before Thanksgiving, according to court documents.
Wright was the CEO of PB Companies LLC at the time, but he stepped down in December 2015 following the assault arrest.
PB Companies was involved in developing a number of high-profile properties around San Luis Obispo County, including the San Luis Obispo Public Market.
In November 2018, Wright pleaded no contest to five felony charges including inflicting corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant, assault, false imprisonment and dissuading a witness.
Wright was sentenced to 270 days in San Luis Obispo County Jail. He attempted to serve his time at a “pay-to-stay” facility in Southern California, but a judge declined to grant him that option.
Then in 2019, he changed his last name from Petetit. His former girlfriend alleged he did so to hide his violent past.
A year later, a legal battle erupted between PB Companies and a Bakersfield-based developer Taylor Judkins over the SLO Public Market development.
First, PB Companies sued Judkins alleging the developer engaged in fraud and mismanagement. The next day, Judkins sued back, alleging PB Companies engaged in a “double escrow scheme,” which accounted for a $700,000 loss for Judkins.
PB Companies was eventually ousted from the SLO Public Market project.
San Luis Obispo city officials also took Wright to court in 2015 to compel him to pay $13,200 in outstanding fines for violations on a residential property they say constitutes a public nuisance and has frustrated neighbors for several years.
In the new indictment, Wright faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy count, a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for the obstruction of justice count, and up to 20 years in federal prison for the falsification of records count.
His trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 26 in Los Angeles.