Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 11/28/2011 06:36:01 PM PST

A new law meant to reduce California’s prison population raises questions as to whether four defendants in a sweeping San Bernardino County corruption case would serve time in prison if convicted.

Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and three former county officials stand charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and other offenses in connection with the county’s $102million settlement with Rancho Cucamonga investor group Colonies Partners LP in 2006. Burum is a co-managing partner of Colonies Partners.

State and local prosecutors allege Burum conspired with the other defendants in a bribery scheme to secure the landmark settlement in Colonies’ favor in exchange for bribes.

Also charged are former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

All four defendants deny any wrongdoing, and five of seven counts against Burum have already been dismissed.

State and local prosecutors have appealed San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville’s dismissal of the charges. The appeal is pending in a state appellate court in Riverside.

While the Colonies case has been called the “biggest corruption scandal in county history,” there are different schools of thought on how the Public Safety Realignment Plan, or Assembly Bill 109, will factor into whether or not the Colonies defendants, if convicted, would actually serve any time in prison.

Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor, said she could not comment specifically on the Colonies case.

In general terms, Levenson said AB 109, while not a get-out-of-jail-free card, will make it less likely for white-collar criminals to spend any appreciable time in custody.

“I think the courts will be reluctant to put the less dangerous defendants into custody,” Levenson said.

The realignment plan, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April, shifts responsibility for parolee monitoring from the state to county probation departments. The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, also redefined which inmates serve time in prison as opposed to county jail.

Under the realignment plan, nonviolent, non-serious and non-sexual offenders would be eligible to carry out their sentences in a county jail. Judges also have the option of sentencing offenders to home detention and electronic monitoring.

Assistant District Attorney Dennis Christy, who heads the Public Integrity Unit of the District Attorney’s Office, said AB 109 would not change the sentencing scheme for the Colonies defendants.

The state has a lengthy list of criminal offenses that would still qualify for a state prison sentence under the realignment plan. Among the offenses are accepting bribes, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest – all offenses the four Colonies’ defendants currently face.

Christy said the Legislature recently expanded its list to include even more government corruption crimes that mandate offenders be sent to state prison rather than serve their sentences in county jails.

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