knife in back

Monday, June 17, 2013 – 03:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 – 10:00 p.m.

The saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely” definitely rings true in San Bernardino County.

An ongoing political finance case, and a new revelation, add to the argument that the 2011 prosecution of Former San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Neil Derry, on a campaign finance violation, was a politically-motivated attack orchestrated by San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos, a self-proclaimed political enemy.

Right or wrong, Derry, in order to deal a quick end to the matter, pleaded guilty to a campaign finance misdemeanor charge related to misreporting a single $5,000 campaign contribution.

The move essentially handed Derry’s seat to then San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chairman James Ramos. Ramos spent more than $1.2 million in the 2012 election, in which he defeated Derry. Ramos is also a staunch ally and close friend of the District Attorney. The two men are unrelated.

A current action by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), one of several more severe violations, exemplifies just how political the Derry prosecution actually was.

Currently, the FPPC is accusing brothers, California State Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Oakdale), and former State Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of laundering more than $40,000 of campaign contributions in 2008. Like several other more egregious cases, no criminal prosecution here. The charges are contained in an administrative complaint before the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Yes, I said $40,000, not $5,000.

You can read the full Berryhill story, published in Saturday’s Sacramento Bee here: FPPC alleges Berryhill brothers laundered campaign cash

The Derry Case

By contrast, in the Derry matter, the San Bernardino County District Attorney, not the FPPC, investigated Derry, over allegations made by a convicted felon. The allegations were that Derry knowingly laundered the aforementioned $5,000 contribution through a political action committee. A committee prosecutors allege is tied to the ongoing Colonies prosecution case.

After completing the investigation, the District Attorney declares a conflict of interest, because Derry had pushed for an investigation into Ramos’ conduct with female staff. The District Attorney then hands off the case to Senior Assistant California Attorney General Gary Schons. Ramos, in a newly-found I’m cleaning up corruption mantra, tells Schons he needs Derry charged, so that he (Derry) could be forced to hand over “information” related to Jim Erwin, his former chief of staff.

Erwin, who has denied any wrongdoing, was at the time, and still remains, a current defendant in the aforementioned Colonies case.

Schons, who has since moved to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, obliged the District Attorney’s request. Without his office conducting any independent investigation at all, and relying entirely on the San Bernardino County investigation, Schons, through Deputy Attorney General Emily Hanks, charged Derry with multiple felony counts related to the single $5,000 contribution. Even though the District Attorney insisted other contributions were involved.

One has to wonder if Schons is a little nervous these days. He (Schons) showed up at oral argument in a prosecution appeal in the Colonies matter. An appeal by prosecutors arising from the dismisaal of core charges in the highly-publicized case, that was heard in October 2012, at 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside. Long after Schons had left his position at the Attorney General’s Office.

Interestingly, Hanks, like Schons, has since moved on. Her landing spot? The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Doesn’t Buy Charges

After arraignment, Superior Court Judge Michael Dest, who presided over the matter, insists prosecutors to dismiss the felony charges, in exchange Derry would plead guilty to single misdemeanor reporting offense. Dest, at the time, said the felony charges were not justified.

Dest further declares Derry may continue to hold office, and seek reelection.

In the end there was no “information” ever requested of Derry, related to Erwin, by either state or local prosecutors.

The “Pre-Charge” Meeting

What makes the whole ordeal even more interesting is an event that transpired prior to the Derry charges being filed.

A revelation of a Spring 2011 meeting between the District Attorney, Former State Assemblyman Brett Granlund, and now Third District Supervisor James Ramos, at a local Redlands, California restaurant, has now surfaced.

An observer present in the restaurant describes the meeting as cozy and giddy.

The discussions surrounded the District Attorney’s personal knowledge of upcoming charges against Derry, and the effect on Ramos’ bid to run for his (Derry’s) seat. Charges made by way of a criminal complaint that would eventually be personnlay delivered to Derry by Schons himself.

Granlund even went around town telling people Derry was going to be criminally charged.

At the time, Derry didn’t believe what people, especially in Yucaipa, were telling him about Granlund’s revelations. Granlund even had the guts to announce his advance knowledge of the impending charges against Derry to the editor of the Yucaipa Times Mirror community newspaper. Derry was wrong in his assumption. The San Bernardino County District Attorney was working hard to take him out. And he did just that.

Campaign Cash

It should be noted, that in 2011, the District Attorney received $10,000 from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and another $15,000 in 2012.

Charges Dismissed

Last February, a Superior Court Judge ordered Derry’s charges dismissed, and probation terminated. Yes, the charges, so critical in combating alleged corruption in San Bernardino County were dismissed early. The dismissal went against the wishes of the Attorney General’s office, which even submitted a 10-page brief in opposition. However, the Judge was unpursuaded.

The charges have also been expunged.

So much for a conflict of interest and recusal.