Out-of-state witness holds up conspiracy, bribery trial
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/25/2011 07:35:25 PM PDT

A San Bernardino Superior Court judge on Monday granted a prosecutor’s request to delay a preliminary hearing for former county Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin.

Erwin, 48, of Highland, is charged with multiple felonies including conspiracy to commit a crime, bribery and perjury in connection with a corruption probe related to the county’s landmark $102 million settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006.

The settlement ended nearly five years of heated legal battle over liability for flood-control easements at the developer’s Colonies Crossroads residential/commercial development in Upland.

Last week, prosecutor Lewis Cope filed a motion with Judge Duke D. Rouse requesting that Erwin’s preliminary hearing, which was scheduled to begin Monday, be delayed because a witness is out of state and Cope is now engaged in a Grand Jury proceeding involving the Colonies’ settlement.

The prosecution’s out-of-state witness, according to Cope’s motion, is Deputy County Counsel Mitchell Norton, the head attorney for the county on the Colonies’ case.

Erwin, who has exercised his right to a speedy trial, has refused to waive more time, but Rouse determined Cope provided good reasons for the delay. Rouse ordered prosecutors, defense attorneys and Erwin to next appear in court on May 20 for a pretrial hearing and set a new preliminary hearing date for May 23.

Prosecutors allege Erwin and former Assessor Bill Postmus conspired while Postmus was still chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2005 and 2006 to push for a legal settlement in Colonies’ favor in exchange for political favors and $400,000 in bribes. The two are alleged to have conspired with five uncharged co-conspirators, all of whom deny the allegations.

On March 28, Postmus pleaded guilty to 14 felonies including conspiracy to commit a crime, conflict of interest and conspiracy to accept a bribe. He has agreed to cooperate with authorities and turn state’s evidence in exchange for reduced charges.

Erwin’s attorney, Rajan Maline, believes prosecutors are trying to convince the criminal Grand Jury to indict Erwin and possibly some or all of the alleged co-conspirators. That, Maline said, would mean the existing criminal charges against Erwin would be vacated and prosecutors could go straight to trial.

Erwin and Maline say they are eager to move forward, and believe prosecutors have no evidence to support their allegations of a criminal conspiracy.

Maline said that if an indictment is handed down, there is a possibility Erwin could be arrested a third time.

Erwin was arrested in March 2009 and charged with felony perjury for allegedly failing to report on state disclosure forms about $15,000 in gifts from Colonies’ co-managing partner Jeffrey Burum, identified as one of the alleged co-conspirators.

The gifts, which allegedly included a weekend getaway to New York City on Burum’s private jet and a Rolex watch, were, prosecutors say, for Erwin’s help in the county’s settlement negotiations with Colonies. Erwin served as a mediator, on Colonies’ behalf, during the heated negotiations.

In February 2010, Erwin and Postmus were arrested and charged in the conspiracy case involving the Colonies’ settlement.

Erwin posted bail on each occasion, and has remained out of custody, on his own recognizance, ever since.

Postmus also posted bail and remains out of custody.

Maline said there’s no reason why Erwin should be incarcerated during the duration of the court proceedings.

To read entire story, click here.