Opening statements made in Gutierrez case
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 09/29/2010 07:35:20 PM PDT

Former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus gave Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez a job in his office as a political favor to developer Jeff Burum in a quid pro quo arrangement, prosecutor John Goritz says.

Gutierrez’s attorney, Jim Reiss, says no evidence suggests such a conspiracy ever existed and that Gutierrez not only adequately carried out his assigned duties during his nearly two-year stint at the office, but received glowing evaluations and raises.

Both attorneys delivered their opening statements Wednesday in San Bernardino Superior Court as the second criminal trial kicked off for Gutierrez.

Judge Duke D. Rouse declared a mistrial at Gutierrez’s first trial in June after the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Now, prosecutors are zeroing in on the alleged conspiracy, and in August amended Gutierrez’s criminal complaint to include the conspiracy count and 26 alleged overt acts.

Gutierrez is charged with three felony counts: conspiracy to commit a crime, grand theft and filing a fraudulent claim. Prosecutors believe he took the job as intergovermental relations officer at the Assessor’s Office in March 2007 with the intention of doing little assessor-related work, and that he attended numerous Rancho Cucamonga meetings and city-related events on county time. He’s alleged to have submitted falsified time cards and mileage sheets to county payroll, bilking taxpayers out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Reiss, however, told jurors to use their common sense in weighing the evidence, which he says will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gutierrez is innocent of all charges.

He pointed out the polarities between Gutierrez, a USC graduate, family man, stockbroker and veteran councilman, and the prosecution’s key witness, former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, a 27-year-old political operative who pleaded no contest last year to felony vandalism, tampering with public documents and making a fraudulent claim.

Aleman has agreed to testify against his former colleagues in exchange and cooperate in the ongoing county corruption probe in exchange for a lighter sentence.

“He’s a felon. He destroyed evidence. He lied to the jury, and he’s their (prosecutors) key witness,” Reiss said. “They’ve spoken to him more than 100 times. He’s simply not a credible witness.”

In his opening statement, Goritz read aloud to the jury the 26 alleged overt acts, which state Gutierrez met with Postmus and Aleman in Postmus’ office in March 2007, where they discussed a 1,200-acre development and a low-income housing project in Rancho Cucamonga that Burum had an interest in. Postmus then hired Gutierrez, offering him a salary at the highest pay grade that didn’t require Board of Supervisors’ approval, prosecutors say.

Burum has repeatedly denied the allegations, and said he never pushed Postmus to hire Gutierrez and was never part of any quid pro quo.

“The prosecutors are wasting tax dollars and wasting limited resources on making baseless claims. They have presented no new information and nothing resembling a conspiracy,” said Burum’s spokesman, Ric Grenell, in a statement Wednesday.

Prosecutors, however, allege Burum was a political contributor to both Postmus and Gutierrez and relied on them to aid him in his business dealings with the county and in Rancho Cucamonga. Postmus and Gutierrez, prosecutors allege, relied on Burum’s political financial support.

Despite numerous complaints from office staff, Postmus refused to discipline Gutierrez out of fear of angering Burum and instead gave Gutierrez glowing performance evaluations and four raises, Goritz said.

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