Former county assessor to trade testimony for reduction in charges
Joe Nelson and Mike Cruz, Staff Writers
Posted: 03/28/2011 05:27:31 PM PDT

Former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus pleaded guilty on Monday in San Bernardino Superior Court to criminal charges stemming from scandals involving the Assessor’s Office and a legal settlement with a Rancho Cucamonga developer.

As part of a plea bargain with prosecutors from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office, Postmus, 39, agreed to plead guilty to all charges filed against him in both cases, including conspiracy to accept a bribe, conflict of interest, misappropriation of public funds and asking for and receiving bribes.

Postmus has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify truthfully against other defendants.

If Postmus cooperates fully, prosecutors would drop all but two felony charges against Postmus related to the county’s $102 million settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006. They would also drop all but one felony count of misappropriation of public funds against Postmus related to the Assessor’s Office scandal.

Postmus would faces up to five years in prison if convicted on the three felony counts.

Prosecutors believe the settlement with Colonies Partners was tainted by bribery, extortion and conspiracy. It ended a longstanding flood-control dispute at the Colonies Crossroads development in Upland. Postmus, who was chairman of the Board of Supervisors at the time, along with Supervisor Gary Ovitt and then-Supervisor Paul Biane, voted in favor of the settlement. Supervisors Josie Gonzales and Dennis Hansberger dissented.

While serving as assessor, Postmus set up a political operation at taxpayer expense, and hired friends and cronies with little to no experience in assessor-related work to help bolster his political career, prosecutors allege.

“The plea today resulted from the filing of conspiracy charges in connection with the Colonies settlement last year by my office and
the attorney general, and demonstrates that public officials will be held accountable for violations of the public trust while in office,” District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said in a statement Monday.

Prosecutor Lewis Cope declined comment following Monday’s hearing before Judge Michael A. Smith. Postmus and his attorneys Stephen Levine and Richard Farquhar also declined comment.

The investigation into the Assessor’s Office began shortly after Postmus took office, when Biane received a complaint that an electronic Republican newsletter was being blasted via e-mail from county servers from the Assessor’s Office. Investigations by the Grand Jury and District Attorney’s Office commenced.

Information gathered prompted the investigation into the county’s settlement with Colonies Partners. Co-managing partners Jeff Burum and Dan Richards, along with Biane, have been identified as uncharged co-conspirators in the criminal complaint against Postmus and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin.

Erwin served as a mediator on Colonies’ behalf during the settlement negotiations. Mark Kirk, Ovitt’s former chief of staff, and Patrick O’Reilly, a public-relations representative for both Burum and the county, are also identified as uncharged co-conspirators in the criminal complaint.

Burum’s spokesman, Ric Grenell, rejected any notion that Burum was involved.

“It is sad that drugs and pressure have pushed Bill Postmus to sink to a level where he says things that are untrue, inconsistent with every statement he has made in the past and inconsistent with what everyone else involved in the settlement has said,” Grenell said in a statement Monday. “Jeff Burum did not participate in any conspiracy and did not pay any bribe.”

Postmus would not comment Monday on what evidence he plans to provide in exchange for his plea agreement.

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