February 14, 2012 11:31 AM
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SAN BERNARDINO • A judge ruled Tuesday that Apple Valley developer John Dino DeFazio will stand trial for allegedly lying to the grand jury, marking the latest legal development in the far-reaching Colonies corruption investigation.
DeFazio, 52, faces up to nine years in prison if convicted of six felony perjury counts for allegedly lying in 2009 about the administration of the Inland Empire Political Action Committee.
Though DeFazio was listed as chair of that PAC, prosecutors with the District Attorney’s office claim former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus was secretly controlling the PAC’s expenditures.
According to the prosecution, the Inland Empire PAC was used to funnel two $50,000 bribes from Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP to Postmus, in exchange for Postmus voting to help Colonies win a $102 million settlement from San Bernardino County over a flood control dispute. In the DA’s larger investigation, Colonies developers are accused of offering $400,000 in bribes to former county officials.
Judge Glenn Yabuno found there was enough evidence to hold DeFazio for trial on the second day of his preliminary hearing in San Bernardino court.
Deputy District Attorney John Goritz argued that Adam Aleman, former aide to Postmus, set up an email account in DeFazio’s name for the purpose of directing PAC expenditures on Postmus’ behalf.
Through copies of email exchanges and testimony by investigator Hollis Randles, Goritz tried to show it was well known that Postmus was running the PAC and that DeFazio lied to the grand jury to cover for him. Goritz brought up handwritten notations found in Postmus’ home and the Assessor’s office with “intimate details” about the PAC. He cited Randles’ testimony that often times Postmus would make a call about PAC business and hand the phone over to DeFazio, or Postmus would be on a conference call while DeFazio directed PAC actions.
Postmus told investigators he believed he had control of the PAC’s money after the roughly $93,000 in Colonies contributions were in the account, Randles testified. The PAC, which eventually had more than $300,000, made a $50,000 contribution toward Postmus’ personal campaign committee.
In DeFazio’s defense, Victorville attorney Richard Ewaniszyk argued that all contributions and expenditures were fully disclosed by the PAC. He pointed out DeFazio, at one point a close friend and real estate partner to Postmus, freely admitted to having many talks with Postmus and Aleman about candidates they liked or didn’t like. Ewaniszyk had called Betty Presley, treasurer of the Inland Empire PAC, to testify that it’s legal — and a common practice — for candidates to suggest other candidates for PACs to endorse.
Presley, who cut every check for the PAC, testified she wouldn’t have authorized a payment “without understanding that it was authorized by Dino.” There was no evidence to show DeFazio knew about some of the email exchanges presented by the prosecution, Ewaniszyk said.
One of DeFazio’s alleged lies was that two High Desert businessmen, Mike Gallagher and Jeff Bentow, were involved in the PAC as board members. The two men told investigators they knew nothing about the PAC’s administration.
“(DeFazio) lied about some very specific things, not about very general concepts,” Goritz said.
Ewaniszyk countered that Gallagher and Bentow, who made large contributions to the PAC, could be tempted to distance themselves from the corruption investigation. He called attention to an exhibit showing a $25,000 contribution with the denotation “care of” Gallagher.
“It’s easy to see why somebody wouldn’t want to be involved in this case, why there’s plenty of motivation here for people to not fess up to their true involvement,” Ewaniszyk said.
The defense attorney also attacked the credibility of Postmus and Aleman as key witnesses for the prosecution. Both men have taken plea deals after being charged with perjury, and Postmus has admitted to a methamphetamine addiction.
DeFazio, first arrested in February 2010, has denied all allegations. Last week he rejected a plea deal that could have left him serving 90 days in jail of a 180-day sentence. He’s set to return to court Feb. 23
Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at NLindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.
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