From left to right: Colonies scandal defendants Jeff Burum, Mark Kirk, Jim Erwin, and Paul Biane stand during a motion to delay their arraignment hearing in a San Bernardino Superior Courtroom

Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 12/30/2011 11:37:49 AM PST

Investigations into corruption in San Bernardino County advanced in fits and starts over the past year.

Prosecutors gained ground when former Supvervisor-turned-Assessor Bill Postmus agreed in March to plead guilty to bribery, conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds and to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

His testimony bolstered the case and resulted in charges against Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and three other former county officials – former county Supervisor Paul Biane and former supervisorial chiefs of staff Mark Kirk and Jim Erwin – related to the county’s $102 million legal settlement with Colonies Partners LP in 2006.

A few months later, in August, Judge Brian McCarville dealt investigators a major blow when he dismissed five of the seven felony charges filed against Burum, citing insufficient evidence or prosecutorial error.

McCarville also dropped one charge of misappropriation of public funds against each of the other defendants.

Prosecutors have appealed McCarville’s August dismissal of the charges, while Burum’s attorney, Stephen Larson, has appealed McCarville’s upholding of the two remaining charges against Burum.

“Frankly, the last seven months have been very difficult for Jeff Burum and his family,” Larson said. “Jeff’s been accused of crimes he did not commit. We’ve known that from the start, and now it’s becoming increasingly clear to the community as the evidence and prosecution’s tactics come to light.”

State and local prosecutors maintain their case is on solid ground.

“We continue to be confident in the facts of this case, and in order to protect the integrity of the case and each defendant’s right to a fair trial, it would be inappropriate to comment any further,” District Attorney’s officials said in a statement earlier this month.

Just weeks after McCarville dismissed the charges against Burum and the other defendants in the Colonies’ case, FBI and IRS agents served search warrants at the homes and businesses of the four Colonies’ defendants and other figures tied to the investigation, including the Fontana home and business of former state Sen. Jim Brulte and the Riverside office of publicist Patrick O’Reilly.

O’Reilly’s attorney, Bill Lehman, said he was told by the FBI that O’Reilly is a witness, not a suspect, in the investigation.

Federal agents sought evidence of bribery, extortion or fraud, including “cash in an amount or concealed in such a manner as to indicate it is proceeds of criminal activity” according to one of the search warrants.

The momentum of the investigation this year seems to stem from information provided to investigators by Postmus, who pleaded guilty in March to 15 felonies tied to scandals at the Assessor’s Office and the county’s 2006 settlement with Colonies.

The settlement ended nearly five years of heated legal battle over who was responsible for paying for flood control improvements at the developer’s 434-acre Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads retail center in Upland.

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