Scales of Justice

Joe Nelson and Ryan Hagen, Staff Writers
Posted: 12/11/2012 03:03:54 PM PST

View: Petition for Review

Prosecutors with the state Attorney General’s Office have petitioned the state Supreme Court to reinstate bribery charges against a prominent Rancho Cucamonga developer in a sweeping San Bernardino County corruption caseinvolving three former county officials.

The petition, which just met the court’s filing deadline, asks the court to reconsider an Oct. 31 ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal in the Colonies case.

Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum stands accused of conspiring with three former county officials in an alleged bribery and extortion scheme that cost taxpayers $102 million, but in the Oct. 31 ruling the appeals court rejected prosecutors’ request to reinstate four bribery charges against Burum.

Those charges are vital to prosecutors’ case, defense attorneys said.

Also charged in the case are former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

All four defendants deny any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors say their case has been hampered by California bribery laws they say “failed to develop alongside evolving national legal standards” and conflict with other court decisions, and that by reviewing the case the state’s highest court can provide guidance on those issues.

“Although unpublished, this high-profile corruption case is being closely watched, and will be used as a benchmark to inform the conduct of both public officials and those seeking to influence them as to what acts they can commit without subjecting themselves to prosecution,” they write in an 18-page argument. “… In these hard economic times, where local governments are going bankrupt and individuals are struggling to stay afloat financially, California citizens are entitled to local prosecutors fully equipped with all available charging tools to fight against the theft of their tax dollars.”

This aspect of the legal battle began when San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville sided with defense attorneys by dismissing five of the seven charges against Burum. McCarville determined that a person accused of giving bribes cannot also be charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of bribes, which prosecutors have alleged.

On appeal to the 4th District Court, prosecutors argued that the law contains no such exemption and that the facts should determine whether such charges are warranted.

In his initial ruling, McCarville also dismissed a charge of misappropriation of public funds against Burum.

In its Oct. 31 decision, the appellate court reinstated the misappropriation of public funds charge and dismissed the conflict-of-interest charge against Burum.

Burum now stands charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and conflict of interest.

The appellate court also reinstated, on request from prosecutors, a charge of misappropriation of public funds against Biane, Kirk and Erwin initially dismissed by McCarville.

District Attorney’s spokesman Christopher Lee said he could not comment on the matter beyond confirming the petition was filed because the case is pending.

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