10:08 PM PST on Monday, November 8, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

Special Section: San Bernardino Co. Probe

Former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus must stand trial on eight felony charges, including allegations that he used his office for personal and political gain, a Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

Judge Michael A. Smith found that there was probable cause to try Postmus and Greg Eyler, a former taxpayer advocate in the assessor’s office, on the bulk of the corruption charges filed against them by the district attorney’s office.

Smith dismissed two charges against Postmus and one charge against Eyler, finding insufficient evidence on those counts.

Postmus, 39, remains charged with three counts of misappropriation of public funds, one count of perjury, one count of grand theft, two counts of possession of a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of possessing drug paraphernalia for unlawful use.

Smith dismissed one count each of misappropriation of public funds and grand theft against Postmus.

Eyler, 34, is charged with one count of grand theft. He also had been charged with one count of misappropriation of public funds but Smith found that he could not be charged under that statute because it only applied to officials with some oversight of public funds. Eyler’s position did not meet that definition.

Both defendants have pleaded not guilty and will be arraigned again on the remaining counts Nov. 19.

“I don’t think it will have a significant impact in the way in which we proceed in the prosecution of the case,” Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope said of the dismissed charges.

Over the course of the nine-day preliminary hearing, a district attorney’s investigator testified that when Postmus became assessor in January 2007 he staffed the office with political operatives who did minimal county work and instead worked on campaigns aimed at enhancing Postmus’ political standing.

Postmus also was accused of charging personal expenses to taxpayers. The grand theft and misuse of county funds charges stem from $276 worth of gas for an employee’s car for a road trip to Aspen, Colo.; $269.36 for a wireless card for a laptop computer; and $1,324.20 for airfare to a Republican conference in Austin, Texas.

Smith said there was enough evidence to show that the gasoline and wireless card charges were for personal expenses but criminal intent was harder to prove with the airfare, citing testimony that a secretary booked the tickets and Postmus later reimbursed the county.

Postmus’ attorney, Stephen Levine, criticized many of the alleged theft charges as small amounts that could be considered incidental expenses allowed to county officials.

“The district attorney’s investigators scraped the bottom of the barrel,” he said.

But Cope described the allegations as a pattern of behavior “that shows Mr. Postmus is perfectly happy to steal from the county and not worry about it unless he’s about to get caught.”

The perjury charge is related to a $12,000 cashiers check found in Postmus’ car during a January 2009 search of his Rancho Cucamonga apartment. Prosecutors said Postmus violated state law requiring public officials to report their income.

It was during that same search that investigators reported finding small amounts of methamphetamine and Ecstasy at Postmus’ home.

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