Published: 05 October 2011 10:00 PM

During a bitter four-year legal battle with San Bernardino County, Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum was frustrated that county supervisors weren’t getting the real truth as he saw it, so he had his friend Jim Erwin act as an unofficial liaison who could bypass attorneys and deliver messages directly to them, according to testimony Burum provided to a grand jury.

The Board of Supervisors agreed in November 2006 to pay Burum’s company, Colonies Partners, a $102 million settlement over a dispute involving Burum’s commercial and housing development, Colonies Crossroads in Upland.

Two months later, Burum rewarded Erwin and Riverside public relations consultant Patrick O’Reilly for their help in obtaining the settlement, by providing them with a lavish trip to New York City, expensive watches and the services of Asian masseuses, Burum said during two days of testimony in March 2009.

“It’s a thank you compensation for all you guys have done,” he said, referring to Erwin and O’Reilly. “I just — my partner just got a hundred million dollars.”

The 129-page transcript, unsealed recently by a Superior Court judge and obtained Wednesday by The Press-Enterprise, offers the first extended comments by Burum on the case in which he and three former county officials are facing criminal charges.

The district attorney and state attorney general allege that the settlement was obtained through a conspiracy involving $400,000 in bribes and extortion. Prosecutors and witnesses in a separate criminal grand jury proceeding earlier this year described Erwin’s role in more menacing terms, as that of an enforcer for Burum who cajoled and threatened supervisors to vote in favor of the deal.

Erwin, a former assistant assessor and former chief of staff to Supervisor Neil Derry, was then head of the influential Safety Employees Benefit Association, which represents sheriff’s deputies.

That grand jury returned a 29-count indictment in May against Burum, Erwin, former Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt. They face conspiracy and bribery-related charges.

All four have pleaded not guilty. A judge has since dismissed five of the seven counts against Burum and one count each against the other three.

At the time Burum testified, Erwin was facing charges over allegations he failed to report gifts from Burum that included the trip and a $12,675 Rolex Daytona watch. Prosecutors did not raise criminal allegations over the Colonies settlement until February 2010 when Erwin and Bill Postmus, a former supervisor and assessor, were indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges.

Postmus has since pleaded guilty to 15 felonies including accepting a bribe; he is cooperating with prosecutors.

Burum’s testimony — under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope — focuses mainly on the New York trip and what the nature of Erwin’s role was during the litigation of the Colonies dispute, an issue on which he and Cope go back and forth at length.

Burum said Erwin got involved as a friend who agreed to communicate directly to supervisors. Burum said he wanted supervisors to get information he felt their attorneys weren’t sharing with them.

“I was feeling very abused through this process and didn’t understand why, frankly, people that had been my political friends weren’t solving this,” Burum said. “Why were they listening to their attorneys and staff when it was, in my opinion, a black-and-white issue.”

Burum said Erwin spoke regularly to four of the supervisors — Biane, Postmus, Ovitt and Josie Gonzales — but not then-Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, who opposed the deal. The board eventually voted 3-2 for the settlement with Biane, Postmus and Ovitt in favor.

County attorneys, including three law firms that resigned rather than OK the settlement, testified during the criminal grand jury that they repeatedly advised supervisors against a deal even as Postmus and Biane pushed for a settlement.

Burum said Erwin’s involvement began in 2004 or 2005 and involved sitting through part of the civil trial in 2006, spending hundreds of hours on the case. But the two never made any formal arrangement for Erwin to be compensated for his help.

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