10:00 PM PDT on Monday, July 25, 2011

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

In fall 2005, then-San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus returned from a trip to China a changed man.

Postmus had been taken out to expensive steak houses, entertained at karaoke bars, given spending money to buy souvenirs — all paid for by Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, according to Postmus’ testimony before a criminal grand jury released Friday.

That trip was described by Postmus and other current and former county officials as a turning point in his involvement in a lawsuit against the county by Burum’s firm, Colonies Partners.

Other officials said they noticed a difference. Then-County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer said the day Postmus got back he asked Uffer to join him for an afternoon meeting.

The normally clean and well-groomed Postmus looked disheveled with his shirttails hanging out, his face unshaven and hair messed up, Uffer said. Carrying a big box of Cuban cigars, Postmus motioned for Uffer to follow him into his office.

“He sat down and the first words out of his mouth were ‘We got to settle this Colonies lawsuit. We have to get it settled,’ ” Uffer said. “It was like — it was — he was almost obsessed with saying that.”

Uffer said Postmus seemed “consumed” with the idea of a settlement from that point on.

Before the trip, Postmus said he had had only a single conversation with Burum and didn’t really know him. When he returned, the two were fast friends and Postmus made settling the lawsuit a priority.

“I knew we had to get it done,” Postmus said.

The $102 million settlement — approved on a 3-2 vote by Postmus, former Supervisor Paul Biane and Supervisor Gary Ovitt in November 2006 — is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

Burum, 48; Biane, 47; former Ovitt chief of staff Mark Kirk, 36, and Jim Erwin, 48, a former assistant assessor and former chief of staff to Supervisor Neil Derry, are charged with multiple felonies, accused of helping to illegally arrange the settlement through a conspiracy involving bribery and extortion.

All four have denied wrongdoing.

Burum’s attorney, Stephen Larson, said in a statement Monday that his client is innocent and that the grand jury only heard “one-sided evidence that will prove to be unreliable and deceptive.”

Postmus pleaded guilty in March to taking part in a conspiracy involving bribery and extortion that resulted in the settlement. He now is cooperating with authorities. He testified before the grand jury for three days in late April.

Wined and dined

Postmus said he was invited on the September 2005 trip — part of a regular delegation of state legislators — by then-state Sen. Jim Brulte, an influential Republican leader from Rancho Cucamonga who has acted as a consultant for Colonies.

“That trip was set up — now that I look at it — for Mr. Burum to befriend me,” Postmus said.

The trip included several state legislators but Postmus, Brulte, Burum and Patrick O’Reilly, a Riverside public relations consultant working for Burum, left a couple of days ahead of the delegation, Postmus said. They took a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Hong Kong, sitting in business class, Brulte said in his testimony.

Their first night in Hong Kong the four went out to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, eating, drinking and smoking cigars until 1 or 2 in the morning, Postmus said.

The next day, Burum took them to a massage house with large bathtubs and pools, the men and women in separate areas. Postmus described them as “the kind where they, like, walk on your back, stuff like that, real heavy-duty massages.”

After a few days in Hong Kong, they joined the delegation in Guangzhou in mainland China, he said, where they went to karaoke bars for four or five nights.

These karaoke bars are different than those in the West, catering to businessmen who rent large rooms for their groups. Young Asian women are “picked out” to sit with them and bring them food and drinks through the night, Postmus said.

Everything — the massages, meals, drinks, karaoke girls — was paid for by Burum, usually with his American Express card, Postmus said.

Burum even gave Postmus several thousand dollars in spending money in Chinese currency, at the beginning and end of their trip in mainland China, where they shopped at local flea markets, Postmus said.

“I bought gifts for my staff, two full suitcases full of stuff that I shipped back for family, parents, sister, nephews, stuff like that,” Postmus said

SERVING ‘EVERY WHIM’

The only items he paid for with his own money were some suits in Hong Kong, Postmus said.

“You described a pattern where he’s just serving your every whim pretty much, is that correct?” Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope asked.

“Yes,” Postmus responded. He said Burum even sent out runners to get Postmus some Heinz ketchup and Red Bull on two separate occasions when the restaurants didn’t have them in stock.

The conversations between Burum and Postmus at first were mainly social with Burum apparently having learned about some of Postmus’ likes and hobbies, “playing that up in befriending me,” Postmus said.

By the end of the trip, they began discussing the Colonies litigation more specifically and Postmus even sent emails to county officials to look into the matter.

“Per my direction don’t do ANYTHING further on colonies until you talk with me,” states an Oct. 5 email from Postmus to two county attorneys. The email was presented to the grand jury.

According to Postmus, Burum told him that if he settled Colonies he would support him financially with his future political campaigns or in private ventures if he left office.

Postmus said he later faced threats from Burum and Erwin, acting as his intermediary, in summer 2006 as Burum grew impatient over the pace of negotiations.

Supervisor Josie Gonzales, who along with former Supervisor Dennis Hansberger ultimately voted against the deal, told the grand jury about an attempt by Burum to win her over on a separate China trip in November 2006.

KEY VOTE

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