Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 09/08/2011 07:05:22 PM PDT

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Thursday that despite the challenges at her office due to limited resources, her office remains committed to assisting San Bernardino County prosecutors in a sweeping corruption probe.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Gary Schons and deputy attorney generals Melissa Mandel and Emily Hanks have been assisting county prosecutors in the corruption case, tied to a $102million legal settlement between the county and Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006.

Harris said the three will remain on the case.

“I am committed to doing everything I can to give that support,” Harris said.

Colonies co-managing partner Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, Mark Kirk, who is Supervisor Gary Ovitt’s former chief of staff, and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin were indicted in May on felony conspiracy, bribery and conflict-of-interest charges, among other charges.

Last month, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge dismissed five of the seven charges against Burum, including all the bribery counts, and one felony charge of misappropriation of public funds against each of the other defendants.

Prosecutors allege Burum bribed the other defendants to the tune of $400,000 in exchange for their help in securing from the county the $102 million settlement on Colonies’ behalf, to end a nearly 5-year-old lawsuit the developer had against the county.

The settlement ended the lengthy heated litigation over who was responsible for paying for flood-control improvements at the developer’s 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland: Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads.

All four of the defendants deny any wrongdoing.

In March, former county Assessor and Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges in connection with the Colonies’ case and misappropriation of public funds and other charges in connection with a scandal at the Assessor’s Office, where Postmus was accused of running a political operation at taxpayer expense.

In a plea bargain, Postmus agreed to testify against the other defendants and cooperate with authorities in exchange for reduced charges.

At an awards ceremony Thursday at the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos praised Harris for supporting the Colonies case after former Attorney General Jerry Brown became governor.

In February 2010, Brown stood aside Ramos at a news conference at the District Attorney’s Office touting the arrests of Postmus and Erwin and calling the Colonies’ case “the biggest corruption scandal in San Bernardino County, if not the state’s, history.”

Assistant District Attorney Jim Hackleman, who is retiring and whose last day is Oct.6, was awarded by Harris on Thursday with the Peace Officer Retirement Certificate of Commendation for his 38 years of service. He was lauded for his problem-solving skills and ability to work with other law enforcement agencies.

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