By Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 08/24/2012 10:49:13 AM PDT

The Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside has issued a tentative decision on appeals brought by prosecutors and defense attorneys in a sweeping San Bernardino County corruption case involving a legal settlement with a land developer.

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith dropped the news during a conversation with attorneys during a brief hearing Friday on the status of the criminal case.

The prosecution and the defense would not discuss specifics of the appellate court’s tentative decision, saying it was meant for attorneys’ eyes only. Attorneys could deliver their oral arguments on the decision as early as October.

State and local prosecutors allege Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum conspired with a labor union president and three top county officials in 2005 and 2006 to steer a $102 million legal settlement in favor of the developer.

Burum and his investor consortium, Colonies Partners LP., sued the county in 2002, alleging it was responsible for flood control improvements at the Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial development, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively, in Upland. The developer argued the county abandoned its crumbling earthen flood control easements on Colonies’ property and refused to pay for a flood control basin that would protect residents from flooding.

The county argued the developer was responsible for the upgrades. The contentious legal battle culminated with two Superior Court judge’s decisions in favor of Colonies, which argued that damages could exceed $300 million if the county decided to take the case to trial and lose.

In response, the Board of Supervisors, on Nov. 26, 2006, approved a $102 million settlement with the developer on a 3-2 vote. Supervisors Bill Postmus, then the board chairman, Gary Ovitt and Paul Biane voted in favor of the settlement. Supervisors Josie Gonzales and Dennis Hansberger dissented.

Prosecutors allege Burum conspired with Biane, Postmus, Ovitt’s chief of staff Mark Kirk, and Jim Erwin, former president of the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association, to secure the settlement in Colonies’ favor by resorting to bribery and extortion.

All four defendants deny any wrongdoing.

Postmus struck a plea bargain with prosecutors in March 2011, pleading guilty to 15 felonies and admitting to take a $100,000 bribe from Burum, which prosecutors allege came in the form of two $50,000 contributions by Colonies Partners to political action committees prosecutors alleges were secretly controlled by Postmus.

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