10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez defrauded San Bernardino County taxpayers as part of a “culture of corruption” at the assessor’s office, a prosecutor charged Thursday in his closing argument.

Deputy District Attorney John Goritz told the jury there was overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy that allowed Gutierrez to get his position as intergovernmental relations officer at the assessor’s office through a political favor yet avoid any discipline for failing to do much work.

Goritz said a paper trail shows Gutierrez repeatedly lied on his timecards about his time in the office, collecting paychecks from the county while also getting reimbursed from Rancho Cucamonga for events on the same days. Those records alone are enough to convict Gutierrez on two felony charges of grand theft and one felony charge of filing a false claim, he said.

Gutierrez, 50, has pleaded not guilty.

He is one of five former county assessor’s office employees, including former Assessor Bill Postmus, facing criminal charges as a result of a district attorney’s probe into allegations of corruption at the office.

The prosecution suffered a setback earlier in the day when Superior Court Judge Duke Rouse granted a defense motion to drop one of the charges against Gutierrez.

Rouse agreed with defense attorney James Reiss that the charge of embezzlement of public funds did not apply to Gutierrez. Rouse said Gutierrez did not meet the definition of public official under state law or have direct control over public funds.

He remains charged on the other three counts.

Goritz said Postmus hired Gutierrez in March 2007 at the request of Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum with the understanding that Gutierrez would have to do little actual county work.

As a councilman, Gutierrez supported and helped advance projects that benefited companies Burum was connected to, including a $42.5 million affordable housing project, Goritz said.

Burum, who was subpoenaed as a potential witness but never actually called to testify, has denied the allegations.

Goritz called the alleged arrangement between Postmus and Burum outrageous.

“We have the elected San Bernardino County assessor not wanting to discipline one of his employees who’s very blatantly violating the rules,” Goritz said. “He has to go to the political benefactor to get permission to discipline the defendant.”

Goritz pointed to an e-mail from Gutierrez asking Burum to intercede on behalf of his job when it was about to be cut in October 2008 and phone records showing they exchanged more than 350 calls during his employment as evidence of the conspiracy.

He said Gutierrez’s testimony that they didn’t discuss the job was not very believable.

Goritz cited city expense forms and minutes that showed Gutierrez at city events and contrasted that with Gutierrez’s timecards where he sought a full day’s pay or sick time. Investigators found 74 documented instances of that occurring, he said.

The prosecution calculated the total loss to the county at $6,875.34. Fraudulent sick pay came to $2,740.89, Goritz said.

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