Bill Postmus

Supervisor focused on support for settlement
Mike Cruz and Joe Nelson, Staff Writers
Posted: 08/03/2011 09:17:44 PM PDT

A move to expedite a settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in 2006 backfired on Bill Postmus, the chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors at the time.

According to Grand Jury testimony, Dennis Wagner, who was hastily appointed interim county counsel that June, and Postmus shared a mutual friend in Tristan Pelayes, who was then a partner at Wagner’s law firm and a political ally of Postmus.

And Postmus believed Wagner would rubber-stamp any settlement he proposed, Postmus told the criminal Grand Jury in April.

Pelayes set up a meeting with the two men at a restaurant. Despite some initial concerns from Wagner, Postmus pushed to have him sworn in a week later as interim county counsel – without any further interviews.

“Deep down in my mind, I hoped that he would get the thing settled,” Postmus testified.

Wagner, however, ended up sharing the same view as other attorneys working for the county – that a proposed $102 million settlement with Colonies was inappropriate.

“No lawyer in county counsel, myself, outside counsel, ever recommended that settlement,” Wagner told the Grand Jury.

In November 2006, Wagner even warned Postmus he would resign rather than sign off on the settlement.

But Postmus, along with then-Supervisor Paul Biane and Supervisor Gary Ovitt, approved the settlement, which state and local prosecutors now allege was tainted by blackmail and bribery.

Postmus and Biane, along with Colonies co-managing partner Jeff Burum, former Ovitt chief of staff Mark Kirk and Jim Erwin – a former union leader, former assistant county assessor and former chief of staff for Supervisor Neil Derry – have all been indicted in an alleged criminal conspiracy that prosecutors say netted the developer the $102 million settlement and the four former county officials $100,000 each in bribes.

In March, Postmus pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy charges in the Colonies case and to criminal charges in an unrelated case in which he admitted running a political operation out of the Assessor’s Office at taxpayer expense. He was elected county assessor in November 2006.

Under a plea bargain with prosecutors, Postmus agreed to testify against other defendants in exchange for reduced charges.

The other four defendants deny the allegations.

When Postmus and Pelayes met with Wagner, Ron Reitz, who was county counsel at the time, had submitted his resignation the week before, Wagner recalled.

Wagner told Postmus he had some initial concerns, such as the logistics and work that his firm did for the county. Wagner said he also told Postmus he would take the job only temporarily.

The Colonies case wasn’t even on the menu at that first meeting in May 2006.

“We didn’t really talk about any case,” Wagner testified.

At the second planned meeting with Postmus a week later in Postmus’ office, Wagner, who said he still had concerns, appeared surprised to see the clerk of the board present.

“Bill is now telling me that, you know, it’s, like, got to happen today. I need to swear you in,” Wagner testified.

Wagner said he took the oath, knowing that as chairman Postmus had the power to do it. But he also knew, he said, the oath was only good until the next board meeting, when the supervisors had to ratify his appointment or reject it.

Postmus’ relationship with Wagner and other county attorneys turned frosty before the supervisors voted 3-2 on Nov. 28, 2006, to settle the Colonies case for $102 million.

At an October 2006 mediation session, Postmus, Ovitt and Biane were poised to greenlight giving the developer $88 million in cash and a chunk of land in Rancho Cucamonga valued at $14 million.

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