Supervisor Paul Biane

Joe Nelson and Wendy Leung, Staff Writers
Posted: 05/05/2010 07:00:59 PM PDT

The chief of staff to San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane has been placed on paid administrative leave, after claiming this week that he was being harassed and retaliated against for cooperating in an ongoing corruption probe.

Matt Brown’s leave became official Tuesday when the county launched an investigation into his allegations, county spokesman David Wert said Wednesday.

“They said they’re putting me on leave to protect me from any possible retaliation, to take me out of the situation until they complete their investigation and to protect the county from any liability,” Brown said Wednesday in a conference call from the office of his attorney, Sanford A. Kassel.

Brown said he received a telephone message from Biane Tuesday morning in which the supervisor said it was best if Brown did not return to work until they had a chance to talk and come up with a strategy on how to move forward.

Brown said he replied to Biane in an e-mail, stating he still wasn’t feeling well Tuesday but hoped to return to work Wednesday.

After a three-day bout of illness, Brown, 37, returned to work about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, but didn’t stay long.

He said he was immediately approached by County Counsel Ruth Stringer and Human Resources Director Andrew Lamberto and informed he was being placed on paid leave indefinitely until they could investigate and get to the bottom of his allegations.

In a letter addressed to his boss on Monday and copied to the other four members of the Board of Supervisors, Brown alleges he has been subjected to daily harassment, retaliation and veiled threats of termination for cooperating in the investigation by state and local prosecutors regarding the county’s controversial $102 million settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006.

Prosecutors allege the settlement, approved by supervisors Biane, Gary Ovitt and then-board Chairman Bill Postmus, was tainted by conspiracy, bribery and extortion. No county attorney or outside counsel signed off on the settlement.

Brown said he enjoys his job, wants to return to work, and is concerned about the negative perception that could stem from his being placed on administrative leave.

“Everyone who hears I’ve been put on administrative leave is going to assume I’ve done something wrong. And the fact I can’t go back to work, that’s what bothers me the most,” Brown said.

County spokesman David Wert said in a statement that Brown’s leave is not disciplinary.

“The county believes that even though Matt did come into the office this morning willing and able to work, he understood the need in this case to separate the parties until this situation is resolved,” Wert said.

Wert said he could not say who ultimately made the decision to place Brown on administrative leave.

“The county does not disclose the identities of the individuals who make decisions regarding individual personnel matters. Any action is considered action by `the county,”‘ Wert said.

When asked by Stringer and Lamberto Wednesday morning to provide them information about the allegations in his letter, Brown said he had been admonished by the District Attorney, state Attorney General and Grand Jury not to discuss certain issues pertaining to the criminal investigation, and that the D.A. would first have to clear him to discuss such issues with Stringer and Lamberto.

Brown also informed Stringer and Lamberto he had retained the services of Kassel.

Stringer told Brown she would contact Kassel and Assistant District Attorney Jim Hackleman to discuss the matter, Brown said.

“The county is in the process of working with the D.A. to clarify this so the county can proceed with its reviews of the issues raised in Matt’s letter,” Wert said. “Until this can be clarified with the prosecutors, it would be standard protocol for someone to remain offsite in order to avoid any possible issues in the workplace.”

Susan Mickey, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, said she could not comment on the matter.

“Number one, it’s a personnel matter, which we don’t comment on, nor do we comment on an ongoing investigation,” Mickey said.

After a telephone conversation with Stringer on Wednesday, Kassel shot off a letter to her, stating that Brown was “ready, willing and able” to cooperate in the administrative investigation, but stressed the need to clear it with the D.A. first.

Brown and Kassel believe the county’s intentions are in bad faith.

“Matt did not elect to go out on admin leave. There is absolutely no good-faith reason for Matt to have been out out on admin leave or asked to leave work…,” Kassel said.

Brown said that, in his experience, it is unusual for an employee to be placed on leave for such reasons.

As to Brown’s job security, Biane said Wednesday that his first choice is to resolve the issue and retain Brown as his number-two man.

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