BY IMRAN GHORI
STAFF WRITER
ighori@pe.com

Published: 08 November 2011 10:05 AM

Search warrants released as part of a San Bernardino County corruption case detail how the four-year investigation grew from reports of political gifts to allegations of a far-reaching conspiracy involving several top county officials and a prominent developer.

The warrants were ordered unsealed by Judge Michael Smith on Friday as part of the criminal proceedings against Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former assistant assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt. They face bribery and conspiracy-related charges for their alleged roles in a November 2006 legal settlement between Colonies Partners, Burum’s firm, and the county.

The 11 search warrants, covering the period from December 2008 to October 2010, were provided by prosecutors to defense attorneys last month. Six of the warrants were made available Friday with four more provided Tuesday.

One of the search warrants, from Aug. 4, 2009, remained unavailable. A court clerk said court officials were unable to locate the document as of Tuesday and are continuing to search for it.

The documents provide a glimpse into how the case began as an investigation into political dealings by former Assessor Bill Postmus and gifts Erwin received from Burum. They also describe the crucial role played by Adam Aleman, a longtime confidante of Postmus, as a confidential informant and the different tangents explored by district attorney’s investigators as the case grew.

Aleman, a former assistant assessor, pleaded guilty in July 2009 to vandalism, theft, destroying public documents and filing a false claim as part of a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for his cooperation, those felony charges could be reduced to misdemeanors when he is sentenced.

The first search warrant — from Dec. 2, 2008 — shows that Aleman cooperated with prosecutors as early as November 2008 when he met with Hollis Randles, a senior district attorney’s investigator, three times and told him about gifts Erwin received from Burum.

Erwin faces multiple perjury charges over allegations he failed to report a $12,750 Rolex watch, a private jet trip to New York and Washington, DC, plus dining, lodging and entertainment expenses paid for by Burum during the January 2007 trip.

Aleman told Randles that Burum took Erwin on the trip and gave him the watch as a gift for his help in facilitating the $102million settlement with Colonies, reached after a five-year legal battle over flood control easements at the firm’s Upland housing and commercial development.

Prosecutors contend that that the settlement was a result of bribery and extortion and that Colonies funneled $400,000 to political action committees controlled by Biane, Erwin, Postmus and Kirk as payment for yes votes on the settlement.

A January 2009 search warrant is the first indication that investigators were looking into the settlement and the contributions made to the political action committees. A subsequent search warrant, from March 2009, goes into more detail and is the first to raise the allegations that the contributions were bribes and recommend criminal charges against Burum, Biane, Erwin, Kirk and Postmus.

That March, Erwin was arrested on charges related to the gifts he received. Postmus had been arrested on drug charges in January 2009. It wasn’t until February 2010 that prosecutors charged them with bribery and conspiracy charges related to the settlement.

Aleman is the source of many of the allegations in the search warrants but the criminal charges against him are not mentioned in the first warrant, an omission that Erwin’s attorney, Rajan Maline, called troubling.

“What’s significant to me about the search warrant is the lack of information given to the magistrate,” Maline said.

He said it raises questions about the legality of the search warrants and may be the subject of a future court motion by him and other defense attorneys.

District attorney’s spokesman Chris Lee declined to comment on the issue.

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