County alleges fraud in Assessor’s Office
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/27/2010 07:02:50 AM PDT

As the trial of Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez comes to a close this week, a civil lawsuit against the defendant and four other former executive staff at the county Assessor’s Office lingers on.

The county filed the lawsuit on May 12, 2009, the same day a county-commissioned investigative report detailing alleged misconduct in the Assessor’s Office under the reign of Assessor Bill Postmus was released to the public.

The suit names as defendants Postmus, Gutierrez, former assistant assessors Adam Aleman and Jim Erwin, former taxpayer advocate Greg Eyler, and Mike Richman, a political consultant hired to do public relations for the office.

They are accused of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, improper expenditure of public funds, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for July 12 in San Bernardino Superior Court.

The county initially paid $250,000 to have the law firm of former federal prosecutor John C. Hueston represent it in the litigation in an effort to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Less than a month after the lawsuit was filed, the Board of Supervisors doubled the county’s contract with the law firm to $500,000. On March 2, the board agreed to again increase its contract with Los Angeles-based Irell and Manella LLP. This time, however, there was no financial cap placed on the contract, and the county has not disclosed how much it has paid the firm, in total, since contracting with it last year.

County counsel did not respond to repeated inquiries last week about the status of the lawsuit and how much money the county has paid the law firm.

Gutierrez’s attorney, James Reiss, said Friday that concern centered on if the county was paying more money for its legal team than what it was seeking in restitution, in total, from the six defendants.

“There was talk at one point that there was going to be mediation to try and put it to bed,” Reiss said.

He said the lawsuit is “dead in the water” due to the pending criminal cases against Postmus, Erwin, Aleman and Eyler.

“Everybody’s kind of waiting,” Reiss said.

The outcome of Gutierrez’s criminal trial will likely impact the civil case against him, Reiss said.

“We feel that if the criminal case goes in our favor, we feel it will have direct impact on the merits of the civil case, and obviously vice versa,” Reiss said. He said there is also the possibility that he can win the criminal case but lose the civil case because the burden of proof is less stringent in a civil case.

The county alleges Postmus and his executive support team willfully conspired to enrich themselves and conduct political activities in the office at taxpayer expense. Hueston’s report finds that many of them did little to no assessor-related work, and in some cases, rarely even appeared for work.

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