Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/28/2010 08:25:01 PM PDT
Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez, while employed at the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office, honestly documented his activities, deceived no one and became a political pawn in a corruption probe by state and local prosecutors, his attorney argued Monday.
During an emphatic closing argument in San Bernardino Superior Court, defense attorney James Reiss decried prosecutors’ allegations that Gutierrez conspired with Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and former Assessor Bill Postmus in taking a job at the county office while performing work in his capacity as a councilman.
rosecutors’ allege Postmus hired Gutierrez as a favor to Burum to foster political support and would not discipline Gutierrez – despite
Gutierrez repeated complaints from office staff – out of fear of upsetting Burum.
Burum has denied the allegations, saying he never reached out to Postmus in hiring Gutierrez.
“If there was going to be a conspiracy, don’t you think you’d see a brown paper bag somewhere with money in it?” Reiss asked the 11-woman, one-man jury.
Reiss stressed that, contrary to prosecutors’ assertions, Gutierrez was qualified for the job and was not hired at the highest rate of pay without approval by the county’s human resources department. He wasn’t elevated to that rate of pay until three months after being hired. In addition, one of Gutierrez’s first orders of business after being hired was taking, and successfully passing, an exam for an appraiser’s certificate, which was a mandatory job requirement.
“Sham job? I don’t think so,” Reiss said.
He said Gutierrez’s supervisors signed off on all 44 of his timesheets during his 22-month stint of employment, and that Postmus gave the councilman a glowing work performance evaluation.
Gutierrez, who is charged with felony grand theft and filing a false claim for allegedly filing false timesheets, worked at the Assessor’s Office from March 2007 to January 2009. He received four raises – an increase in pay of more than 11 percent.
Prosecutor John Goritz said in his rebuttal argument that the facts and documented evidence in the case was “clear cut,” and that Gutierrez intentionally defrauded the county by marking sick time and regular hours on his timesheets for attending events and conferences during work hours in his capacity as a councilman.
Assessor’s Office employees testified they complained to supervisors that Gutierrez was hardly ever in the office. When he was, they said, he didn’t do any assessor-related work.
“The defendant had free reign to do pretty much whatever he wanted to do at this job, and nobody was going to do anything about it,” Goritz said.
Reiss said, in essence, that the only argument that could be made against Gutierrez is that he was a lazy employee.
“Is that a crime? That testimony was a joke,” Reiss said.
Reiss chipped away at the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness, former assistant assessor Adam Aleman, who struck a plea bargain with prosecutors to testify against his former colleagues in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Aleman met or contacted district attorney investigators more than 100 times in the course of their investigation, Reiss argued.
Goritz told the jury that the case is not all about Aleman’s testimony, and that Ted Lehrer, former communications officer at the Assessor’s Office, corroborated some of what Aleman said under oath. Specifically, Lehrer said he helped Aleman draft a talking points memo regarding Gutierrez’s performance, which Postmus was to use during a meeting with Burum.
Investigators found the memo on Postmus’ desk during a search of his office, months before Aleman was arrested and agreed to cooperate in the investigation, Goritz said.
As to Gutierrez’s supervisors never disciplining him, Goritz said, “Of course there wasn’t any of that. We’re talking about a conspiracy.”
Burum’s spokesman, Ric Grenell, said in a statement Monday that prosecutors couldn’t point to any evidence of a conspiracy because there wasn’t any conspiracy.
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