Former Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez returned home Thursday after serving his prison term. A jury found him guilty in October 2010 of felony charges of conspiracy, grand theft and presenting a false claim to a public office. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Staff Photographer)

 

Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Created: 04/21/2012 07:07:01 AM PDT

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – Fifteen months in prison have hardly changed Rex Gutierrez.

The former councilman does not look older, thinner or more defeated.

His sense of humor, quirky sensibility and panache for flashy ties have not gone away.

“I’m still here,” Gutierrez said. “I’m still standing.”

In his first interview since his return from state prison, Gutierrez, 52, maintained his innocence despite a jury finding him guilty in October 2010 of felony charges of conspiracy, grand theft and presenting a false claim to a public office.

Prosecutors had proved to the jury that Gutierrez had received a position at the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office as a favor to an influential developer and had produced very little work as the intergovernmental relations officer.

The case was one chapter in an ongoing corruption investigation by the offices of San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos and the state Attorney General’s Office.

“They had to make an example out of me. Ramos had to make this thing a war and get as many notches in his belt as possible,” Gutierrez said.

“After spending millions and millions, I don’t know what Ramos will come up with. I don’t know if he’ll get anything out of this whole scandal.

“Because why? Because it’s not his money. It’s the people’s money he’s throwing away.”

Ramos replied in a statement, “It is my obligation as district attorney to prosecute those individuals and officials who violate the law and the public trust. I am very proud of the ethical and professional manner in which the Gutierrez case was prosecuted by our Public Integrity Unit and attorney general partners. The result in this case will hopefully serve to deter future violations of the public trust.”

Following the sentencing of Gutierrez, the D.A.’s office charged developer Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Supervisor Gary Ovitt’s former chief of staff Mark Kirk on charges of conspiracy, bribery and other charges surrounding a landmark $102 million settlement on the Upland Colonies development.

The four charged in the Colonies investigation have pleaded not guilty and the corruption case is currently winding through the court system.

“If I become the only scapegoat in this whole supposed county scandal, I will be very disappointed,” Gutierrez said. “So far, I’ve been the only person to pay the price.”

The price was about half of his two-year and eight-month sentence.

Some of that was served at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, a minimum-security facility where Gutierrez was trained to fight wildland fires.

Gutierrez found his assignment ironic considering his past conflicts with the city’s fire union.

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