Attorneys Stephen Larson, middle, and Jennifer Keller, left, discuss their case with defendant Jeff Burum, one of four defendants currently on trial in the Colonies corruption case in San Bernardino. File photo.(Stan Lim, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
and Richard K. De Atley, The Press-Enterprise
Posted: 06/01/17 – 3:45 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Defense attorneys in the Colonies bribery trial on Thursday attacked the credibility and character of key witness and former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, claiming he was shaping his statements to conform to the prosecution narrative of the case and “making things up as he went along.”

Following defense attorney Jennifer Keller’s cross-examination of Aleman, attorney Rajan Maline, representing defendant and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, questioned Aleman on his motive behind seeking out a plea agreement with prosecutors in 2009, saying Erwin had already delivered them a lot of information.

Both attorneys took on specific instances where they said Aleman was caught in a lie, but also fired on his character, with Maline at one point, over a sustained prosecution objection, calling him “pathological,” to which Aleman responded, “That’s your word, I’m not a psychologist.”

Over another sustained objection from Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel, Keller, representing defendant and Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, concluded her questioning by saying Aleman had lied to, among others, district attorney investigators and a civil grand jury investigating malfeasance at the Assessor’s Office during the reign of Bill Postmus.

“Unless we have been able to confront you with a specific document to prove you are lying, you just keep lying, don’t you?” she asked. Her question was met with an objection by Mandel, sustained by Judge Michael A. Smith.

Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices allege in the Colonies case that three county officials were bribed by Burum to settle a land rights lawsuit with Burum’s investor group, Colonies Partners LP, for $102 million in November 2006.

Also charged in the case are Erwin, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff for former Supervisor Gary Ovitt. All the defendants have denied any wrongdoing, saying political contributions by Colonies Partners totaling $400,000, which prosecutors allege were bribes, were legal, publicly reported and part of Colonies’ attempts to mend fences after the contentious, nearly 5-year legal battle.

Aleman and Postmus entered into plea agreements with prosecutors within two years of one another in 2009 and 2011, respectively. They both agreed to testify against the defendants and cooperate with investigators in exchange for lighter sentences.

Aleman was charged in June 2008 with four felony offenses in connection with falsifying Assessor’s Office records he produced for the civil grand jury and for destroying the hard drive from a county-owned laptop computer used by Postmus when he was a supervisor.

Postmus was convicted of abusing his elected office of Assessor for personal gain and was a defendant in the Colonies case before entering into his plea agreement in March 2011.

Aleman followed Postmus to the witness stand, and underwent his fifth day of testimony Thursday.

Facing more than eight years in prison, Aleman approached district attorney investigators in 2008, originally offering to turn state’s evidence about the Assessor’s Office. But Erwin had already reported to the District Attorney’s Office in 2007 what Maline called “shenanigans” at the Assessor’s Office under Postmus’s leadership.

“After looking at the (District Attorney) reports… you knew there was no way out for you, they had the goods on you… you were as guilty as sin, and had no choice but to go to the D.A.,” Maline said, to which Aleman agreed. Aleman said Erwin called him the day after his arrest and suggested he tell investigators “everything you know about Bill.”

Once Aleman became aware of Erwin’s tipping off investigators about criminal activity at the Assessor’s Office, Maline suggested Aleman began searching for what he could offer as “serious criminal activity” while working for Postmus.

Maline read from a November 2008 transcript in which District Attorney Investigator Hollis “Bud” Randles told Aleman that the Colonies case was crucial to them, and that it should be important to Aleman, too.

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