By Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/10/2012 03:03:31 PM PST

An admission by former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus to federal authorities that he used methamphetamine dozens of times in 2011 has a defense attorney in a far-reaching county corruption case questioning the tactics of prosecutors.

The admission came during an Oct. 14 interview with assistant U.S. attorneys Jerry Behnke and Joseph Widman and FBI agent Jonathan Zeitlin, when Postmus told the trio what he knew about an alleged corruption scandal state and local prosecutors are calling the biggest in county history.

It raises the question of whether Postmus may have violated a plea agreement he struck with state and local prosecutors in March 2011, which stipulated he was to violate no laws and could be committed to a state corrections drug rehabilitation program if he were found to be abusing drugs.

“Mr. Postmus’ admitted, extensive use of drugs both during and after the settlement negotiations, as well as during the period that he has been cooperating with and supervised by the prosecutors in this case, raises disturbing questions about his reliability and the conduct of the prosecution,” said Stephen Larson, attorney for Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, a defendant in the corruption case.

Prosecutors allege a $102 million settlement between the county and Burum’s Rancho Cucamonga investor consortium Colonies Partners LP was tainted by bribery and extortion. The settlement, approved by the Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 vote on Nov. 28, 2006, ended a contentious land-rights lawsuit over who was responsible for building and paying for a flood-control basin at the Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial development, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively, in Upland.

In May, four people were indicted on multiple charges of criminal conspiracy, bribery and conflict of interest, among other charges, in connection with the Colonies case: Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for county Supervisor Gary Ovitt. All four deny any wrongdoing.

Under a proffer agreement, Postmus, who said he has struggled with methamphetamine addiction since the end of his first term as a county supervisor in 2004, told Behnke, Widman and Zeitlin what he knew about the alleged bribery case.

A proffer agreement, also referred to as a “queen for a day” letter, is a written agreement between federal prosecutors and individuals under criminal investigation that allows them to tell the government about their knowledge of crimes, with the supposed assurance that what they say will not be used against them in any later criminal proceedings.

When Behnke asked Postmus if he could recall the last time he used drugs, Postmus said it was the early part of 2011, when he purchased some methamphetamines to use by himself at home, according to the interview transcript.

During his testimony before a criminal grand jury in April, Postmus told Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope he had been drug free for more than nine months. Zeitlin noted in a cover letter included in the October interview transcript that Postmus, in the six months prior to the interview, admitted to using methamphetamine roughly a “couple dozen times.”

Originally a defendant and faced with multiple felony charges in the Colonies case and a companion corruption case alleging he abused his elected position as county assessor, Postmus in March 2011 entered into a plea agreement with state and local prosecutors. He agreed to cooperate in the Colonies investigation and prosecution and to testify against the four defendants at trial in exchange for reduced charges.

At the time of his plea agreement, Postmus was facing three separate felony drug charges and multiple felony charges in the Colonies and Assessor’s Office criminal cases.

Postmus remains out of custody on his own recognizance.

Prosecutors decline to comment on the case, but believe their evidence is solid.

“In order to protect the integrity of the case and each defendant’s right to a fair trial, we are required to continue to reserve our comments for the courtroom,” said Christopher Lee, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office.

In his cover letter included in the October interview transcript, Zeitlin also noted that during the first half of the interview, Postmus appeared “nervous and reserved,” doodling shapes on a notepad. After returning from a break, Postmus appeared visibly more animated and relaxed,” and his answers to questions provided significant detail and was far more conversational in tone.

Larson declined to comment on why Zeitlin may have felt that information was important to note.

“The significance of that information will be presented in the courtroom,” Larson said.

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