Cassie MacDuff

10:00 PM PST on Monday, February 22, 2010

Why does one public official’s failure to disclose a gift, income or property warrant criminal charges, while others get off with mere fines?

I’ve wondered about that since the arrest last year of former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin on 10 felonies.

Erwin is headed for trial on charges related to not disclosing a trip back East on developer Jeff Burum’s private jet and a Rolex watch Burum gave him.

Erwin lost his job as chief of staff to Supervisor Neil Derry after the January 2009 arrest. He has been alleging selective prosecution ever since, pointing to others who’ve gotten off with fines from the Fair Political Practices Commission .

It recently came out that Supervisor Paul Biane omitted a similar trip at Burum’s expense from his Statement of Economic Interest in 2008. The DA merely referred the matter to the FPPC.

I asked the DA’s office why Biane’s case was handled differently and learned that Biane isn’t off the hook.

The supervisor still could face criminal charges, whether or not the FPPC fines him for not reporting the trip to West Virginia on Burum’s jet, Assistant DA Jim Hackleman told me.

FPPC spokesman Roman Porter said the matter remains under investigation.

Still, Erwin believes he was singled out for tougher treatment.

His lawyer, Rajan Maline, said DA Mike Ramos failed to report $10,000 in income from his wife’s work on his campaign. But the DA was fined just $200 and not charged with a crime.

DA spokeswoman Susan Mickey said Ramos’ omission differs from Erwin’s: Ramos reported the income on his taxes and campaign committee’s expenditures. He didn’t conceal it.

Other public officials also have escaped criminal charges for such omissions:

San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman was fined $5,000 by the FPPC last year for failing to accurately report country club memberships he accepted in 2005 and 2006. The DA deemed the fine punishment enough.

In 2009, then-Sheriff Gary Penrod received an FPPC warning letter for failing to disclose several pieces of real estate and his wife’s business on his Statement of Economic Interest.

He wasn’t fined, and the DA didn’t charge him with a crime because the FPPC found that it didn’t warrant more than a warning, Hackleman said.

Still, Erwin isn’t the only San Bernardino County official who has been charged with a crime for failing to disclose gifts and trips.

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