Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Created: 09/15/2011 12:04:21 PM PDT

FBI and IRS agents served nine search warrants Thursday at the homes and offices of former state Senator Jim Brulte, a Riverside publicist and four defendants in a sweeping San Bernardino County corruption scandal.

Roughly 100 agents fanned out across San Bernardino and Riverside counties throughout the day, serving warrants in Rancho Cucamonga, Highland, Oak Hills, Fontana and Riverside. They carted away personal computers, mobile phones and boxes filled with bank and mobile phone records, among other evidence.

“We are investigating allegations of criminal activity at the federal level,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. “This is a case clearly that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is pursuing.”

Neither she nor IRS officials declined to discuss specifics of the investigation, as the warrants were under federal seal.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he was not at liberty to discuss the scope or nature of the investigation.

But it’s tied to the county’s landmark $102 million settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in 2006, sources close to the investigation said.

Prosecutors alleged the settlement was tainted by a web of bribery and conspiracy involving Jeff Burum, Colonies’ co-managing partner, and several county officials including former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus.

The bribes for voting for the settlement, prosecutors said, were in exchange for $400,000 in bribes funneled through a political action committee.

Much of the evidence seized Thursday was similar to records sought by county prosecutors, sources said.

Agents searched the following locations Thursday:

The Fontana home of former state Sen. Jim Brulte and the Fontana office of California Strategies, where Brulte works as a political consultant.

The home of Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and his two offices, including his nonprofit

Jeffrey Burum was a founder and chairman of National CORE, an affordable housing nonprofit headquartered in Rancho Cucamonga. National CORE builds and manages affordable housing communities in California and five other states.

Burum voluntarily resigned from the National CORE board “to protect its 300 employees and more than 27,000 resident families from being subjected to the same mean-spirited politics of personal destruction that he has been forced to endure,” Burum spokesman Ric Grenell said in 2010.

As of noon: Seven to eight FBI agents left Jim Erwin’s house in Highland, with items such as a computer and about five boxes filled with bank documents and bank records. They also asked about political action committees Erwin was tied to.
National Community Renaissance, or National CORE, which develops low income housing.

The Rancho Cucamonga home of former county Supervisor Paul Biane.

The Highland home of former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, a major negotiator in the settlement.

The Oak Hills home of Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

Patrick O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Public Relations, was identified as an uncharged co-conspirator in a February 2010 criminal complaint filed by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices against Erwin and former county Assessor Bill Postmus.

O’Reilly did not return calls seeking comment.

In March, Postmus pleaded guilty to the charges and, as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors, agreed to testify against the other defendants in exchange for reduced charges.

A criminal grand jury indicted Burum, Erwin, Kirk and Biane in May, charging them with a total of 29 felony counts including conspiracy to commit a crime, bribery and conflict of interest. In August, most of the charges, including all bribery charges, were dismissed against Burum. Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville also dismissed one charge of misappropriation of public funds against each of the other defendants.

Brulte, who prosecutors allege arranged a China trip with Burum and Postmus in 2005 that was the genesis of the alleged conspiracy and participated in settlement negotiations between Colonies Partners LP and the county, has not been charged with any crimes.

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