Los Angeles Daily Journal

San Bernardino County developer, officials in corruption scandal say their rights were violated

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
By Katie Lucia

Defendants charged in a wide-ranging public corruption scandal are trying to convince a judge to toss the case, alleging a litany of prosecutorial misconduct.

In motions filed Monday, Jeffrey Burum, a developer, and former San Bernardino County officials who are defendants in the case accuse prosecutors of making false promises to induce them to waive their constitutional rights; making false statements in affidavits in support of search warrants and improperly contacting parties in the matter.

They also accuse prosecutors of manipulating the grand jury proceedings that led to the indictments, among other things.

Burum, former San Bernardino County Assessor Jim Erwin, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors Bill Postmus, former Supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt, were charged in 2010 with a sweeping bribery scheme to gain approval of a $102 million settlement between Burum’s company Colonies Partners LLC and the county. The settlement resolved a dispute between Colonies and the county over flood control repairs made on the developer’s Upland property.

In 2011 Postmus pleaded guilty to felonies related to these and other corruption charges.

“These motions will prove that four men were indicted for a crime that never occurred,” Burum said during a phone interview. “We can only hope when it’s over that our lives and reputations will be restored.”

Prosecutors declined to comment “in order to protect the integrity of the case and each defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Chris Lee, spokesman for San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, said in an email.

Though the motions were filed with the court, they are pending until the case is remanded back to a trial judge. Prosecutors had appealed an earlier dismissal of several charges, bringing the matter before the state Supreme Court. After the high court determined certain crimes did not have to be dismissed “as a matter of law,” the justices remanded the matter back to the appellate court in Riverside for further review.

However, defendants have indicated at public trial court hearings that they intended to request the matter be sent back to the trial court. One motion, filed last month, was filed under seal.

“What has been truly “appalling” about this case has been the unfettered abuse of prosecutorial power employed to pursue legally and factually meritless claims,” Stephen G. Larson, a Los Angeles-based partner with Arent Fox LLP who represents Burum, wrote in a motion. “Not to mention the State’s willingness to destroy the lives of innocent men, and their families, in exchange for political and personal gain.”

The parties are scheduled to appear Thursday before Judge Michael Smith in San Bernardino Superior Court for a settlement conference.