Gavel-Legal

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 03/02/14, 4:09 PM PST |

A private investigation firm was hired by a defense attorney in the Colonies corruption case to spy on a key witness, court documents show.

District attorney’s Investigator Eric Bremner and San Bernardino County prosecutors were investigating the alleged illegal hacking of a mobile phone belonging to former county Assessor and Colonies witness Bill Postmus when they raided the offices of El Segundo-based Thomas Dale & Associates, or TDA, on Jan. 31, 2013.

TDA is a high-end global investigative and security firm with an impressive roster of clients, including NBC, CNN, and the film industry, according to the company’s website.

The defense attorney, Stephen Larson, is alleging investigators “invaded the defense camp” by seizing hundreds of pages of attorney-client privileged documents during the raid.

Larson, who represents Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum in the Colonies case, said in a dismissal motion filed in San Bernardino Superior Court and unsealed Wednesday that the seizure of the documents violated Burum’s constitutional rights and that the criminal case against him alleging bribery of county officials should therefore be dismissed.

“What Mr. Burum objects to, as an egregious violation of his constitutional rights, is the government’s use of the investigation of an alleged offense as subterfuge to purposefully invade the defense camp,” Larson wrote in his motion, one of five he has filed in the last month alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

Bremner’s investigation led to TDA after it was discovered that a woman in Baldwin County, Ala., had been retained by the firm to dig up personal information on Postmus. She allegedly hacked into Postmus’ AT&T account, changed his password and re-routed his billing information to a Yahoo email account she set up, according to a search warrant affidavit also unsealed on Wednesday along with hundreds of pages of other judicial records.

Larson alleges that Bremner, who was assigned as Postmus’ handler for the Colonies case, was well aware that Larson had retained the services of TDA to conduct surveillance on Postmus to see if he was still abusing methamphetamine and should never have been involved in the phone-hacking investigation and search at TDA.

He said a taint team — prosecutors and investigators not affiliated with a conflicting criminal case — should have been assigned to the phone-hacking case.

And despite a special master overseeing the search, Larson said investigators, including Bremner and prosecutors assigned to the Colonies case, reviewed the legally sensitive documents before presenting them to the special master for review.

A special master is a legal expert appointed by the court to ensure that judicial orders are followed and that attorney-client privileged information is not breached.

“While the prosecution claims that the hundreds of pages of privileged documents seized during the search were protected by using a special master, it was investigator Bremner and the other law enforcement personnel who searched TDA for these seized documents, reviewed them for responsiveness, and only then presented them to the special master, “ Larson said in his motion.

District Attorney Michael A. Ramos declined comment Friday, citing the pending criminal proceedings. But he did issue a brief statement.

“Let me be clear,” Ramos said. “We have an ethical responsibility to prevent witness intimidation and to ensure the safety of our witnesses.”

Among the acts Burum stands accused of are intimidating Postmus and former county Supervisor Paul Biane and hiring private investigators to dig up incriminating information on them.

Reached by telephone, Burum said he interpreted Ramos’ statement as a threat.

“If we continue to stand up for our rights, he’s going to continue to abuse ours,” Burum said. “We have proof that the prosecutors, once again, made false allegations and then trampled on our constitutional rights in order to invade our privileged and protected information.”

Postmus, who also served on the county Board of Supervisors from 2000 to 2006 before being elected county assessor, pleaded guilty in March 2011 to multiple felonies in connection with the Colonies case and a companion corruption case at the Assessor’s Office in which he was accused of hiring friends and cronies and using the office to run a political operation at taxpayer expense.

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