Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 10/20/2010 08:48:17 PM PDT

Attorneys delivered their closing arguments Wednesday in the retrial of Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez. The seven-woman, five-man jury will begin deliberating today.

Prosecutors outlined for the jury what they describe as a “culture of corruption” in the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office under the reign of Bill Postmus in 2007 and 2008, and that Gutierrez was hired by Postmus as a political favor to Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, who contributed to both Gutierrez’s and Postmus’ campaigns.

Burum, who hasn’t been charged with any crime, denies the allegations, and said he never broached the subject of hiring Gutierrez with Postmus.

“It’s very clear there was little expected of the defendant the entire time he was at the Assessor’s Office,” prosecutor John Goritz said in his closing argument.

Gutierrez, 50, is charged with three felony counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, grand theft and filing a fraudulent claim. He is accused of stealing $147,000 in taxpayer money in the form of fraudulent pay and expenses while working at the office as an intergovernmental relations officer from March 19, 2007, to Jan. 3, 2009.

Prosecutors allege Gutierrez took the job with the intention of bolstering his political career and doing little to no assessor- related work. They also say he was smug to his supervisors and “double- dipped” on dozens of occasions, expensing travel, meals and lodging to both the county and the city of Rancho Cucamonga for attending the same events.

Gutierrez’s attorney, Jim Reiss, told the jury to analyze only the evidence and to be logical. He cited 10 reasons why the jury should acquit Gutierrez. Among them:

All of Gutierrez’s time cards were approved and signed by five supervisors, three of which were not part of the alleged conspiracy or named as defendants.

Gutierrez was given exemplary performance evaluations and had a clean personnel file.

The prosecution’s key witness, former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, has a felony conviction and his friend Ted Lehrer testified that Aleman lied to him on several occasions.

“His best friend said he was a liar and a master manipulator,” Reiss said. “The prosecution is depending on a felon and a liar to make their case. That’s how weak it is.”

Aleman, 27, pleaded no contest in June 2009 to four felonies for his role in the scandal that shook the Assessor’s Office in 2008, leading to the arrests of five former executives. He is testifying against former colleagues in exchange for a lighter sentence, to be determined by a judge.

Reiss said Gutierrez treated his Assessor’s Office job as legitimate the entire 22 months he worked for the office, traversing the county, meeting with city managers, doing legislative research and working on the office’s first annual report, among other things.

Prosecutors, however, said any assessor-related work Gutierrez did was the bare minimum and only done to perpetuate the ongoing conspiracy.

Goritz said Postmus refused to discipline Gutierrez out of fear of upsetting Burum, and that former assessor’s employee Joshua White testified that Gutierrez told him he had the job so he could do city business.

In addition, Gutierrez, despite having no background in assessor-related work, was hired at the highest pay grade that didn’t require Board of Supervisors approval, and Gutierrez reached out to Burum in an e-mail asking him to “prevail upon Postmus” to extend his pay with the county when his job was eliminated.

Gutierrez stayed on the county payroll for an additional three months and then was transferred to the county Economic Development Agency.

Reiss, however, said Gutierrez’s status as an exempt employee allowed him a more flexible schedule and to make up work at home, on lunch breaks, in the evening and on weekends. He maintains the job was never a sham.

“If the job was a sham, he’d never leave his house. He’d just send someone to get his paycheck,” Reiss said.

Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel said Gutierrez’s glowing performance evaluations and lack of discipline were all part of a concerted effort to keep the conspiracy going for the benefit of Gutierrez, Postmus and Aleman. She said the three supervisors who signed off on Gutierrez’s time cards but were not named in the conspiracy were “helpless” against Postmus.

“This is a theft of $147,000, agreed upon by three people who had county money at their disposal,” Mandel said. “This entire job was a sham.”

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