Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/27/2011 08:44:36 PM PDT

When the state Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges Tuesday against Supervisor Neil Derry for allegedly laundering money through a political action committee, it marked the second time in two years that a San Bernardino County official was hit with charges for campaign disclosure violations under the Political Reform Act.

But experts say the action – which highlights various facets of campaign law – isn’t that common.

“Criminal cases in this area are very unusual,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “This is very unusual. We’ll have to see what’s there.”

Derry faces one felony charge of perjury, one felony charge of offering a false or forged document, and one misdemeanor charge of failing to report a contribution.

Prosecutors say Derry concealed a $5,000 campaign contribution from Highland developer Arnold Stubblefield in June 2007, when he was running for county supervisor.

They allege that Derry laundered the money through a political action committee run by former county Assessor Bill Postmus.

Derry has not been arrested.

He said in a statement Wednesday that if he made a mistake he would correct it as soon as he can review the facts with his campaign treasurer and attorney, and will take whatever action they advise.

An Attorney General’s Office spokesman said the felony perjury charge against Derry carries up to four years in prison.

He is scheduled to appear in San Bernardino Superior Court on June 9 for arraignment.

In March 2009, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, who was working as Derry’s chief of staff, was charged with multiple felonies for allegedly failing to report roughly $15,000 in gifts from Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeffrey Burum in 2007, including, prosecutors say, a weekend getaway to New York City on Burum’s private jet and a Rolex watch.

The gifts were allegedly for Erwin’s help in the $102 million settlement negotiations between Burum’s development company, Colonies Partners LP, and the county over flood control easements at the developer’s Colonies Crossroads residential/commercial development in Upland.

Erwin served as a mediator on Colonies’ behalf in the negotiations, which resulted in the landmark settlement in favor of the developer.

Prosecutors say the settlement was tainted by bribery and conspiracy, allegations the county and the developer deny.

In February 2010, Erwin and former county Assessor Bill Postmus were charged with multiple felonies, including conspiracy to commit a crime and bribery in connection with the Colonies settlement.

In September, prosecutors amended that criminal complaint to include Erwin’s perjury charges resulting from his alleged reporting violations.

But while the state Fair Political Practices Commission has fined other county officials for campaign reporting violations, no criminal investigations have arisen from those cases.

And the question of when prosecutors decide to pursue criminal charges stemming from campaign disclosure violations is seemingly a difficult one to answer.

The Fair Political Practices Commission says the extent of its authority as an administrative body is doling out fines and filing civil lawsuits.

“There are no felony provisions within the Political Reform Act, but many of our forms are required to be filed under penalty of perjury,” said Roman Porter, FPPC executive director. “That would be an independent charging decision by an independent prosecuting attorney.”

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