Colonies defendants and their attorneys gather outside of a courtroom in San Bernardino Superior Court during a recess in the Colonies corruption trial. File photo. (Photo by Rick Sforza/The Sun)

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
and Richard K. De Atley, The Press-Enterprise
Posted: 06/08/17 – 5:05 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> A prosecutor in the San Bernardino County Colonies bribery case on Thursday attempted to recoup the credibility of key witness Adam Aleman after days of defense attorney battering of the former assistant assessor’s accounts of alleged corruption a decade ago.

Prosecutors tried to fix damage inflicted by defense cross-examination that challenged nearly every aspect of Aleman’s testimony. One member of the defense team accused Aleman of “making things up as he went along.”

Prosecutors allege three county officials — former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, former County Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff for former Supervisor Gary Ovitt — each took $100,000 in bribes from Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, a co-managing partner of Colonies Partners LP, to reach a favorable $102 million to settle a land rights lawsuit between Colonies and the county in November 2006.

All have denied any wrongdoing and said the alleged bribes were legal and transparent contributions to political action committees by Colonies Partners, made to smooth things over after nearly five years of contentious legal battle and hard bargaining.

The prosecution’s chief witnesses are Aleman and former County Assessor Bill Postmus, Aleman’s former boss, who both have made plea deals in the case in exchange for their testimony, a fact the defense attorneys hammered during the testimony of both men.

The defense team attacked Aleman’s accounts of alleged damaging political mailers that he claimed Erwin showed him as a way to pressure Biane and Postmus into supporting a Colonies settlement.

They also attacked Aleman’s recollection of a series of meetings between Burum, Postmus and others that Aleman said he attended from January to June 2006.

Aleman failed to correctly recall the location of restaurants and the name of a hotel where he said some of the meetings took place. A defense attorney showed the patio of the Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga was under renovation during that time, and could not be the site of one of the meetings Aleman claimed to have attended.

On re-direct, Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel on Thursday produced a screenshot of Postmus’ calendar showing a scheduled lunch meeting for Postmus, Burum and Postmus’ chief of Staff, Brad Mitzelfelt, on July 25, 2006. It gave no location.

The date, however, did not fit into the January-to-June 2006 timeframe Aleman gave of the half dozen to dozen meetings he said he attended in which Burum was allegedly present.

Mandel asked Aleman if he had any recollection of Mitzelfelt attending the lunch. Aleman said he did not. In fact, he did not recall the meeting at all.

While Aleman said there were many “off-the-book” meetings he attended with Postmus and Burum, it was unclear how many of those meetings Aleman was actually present at, as no evidence has been introduced to show it.

When Mandel asked Aleman if he recalled a 2006 meeting at an El Torito restaurant with Postmus and Riverside publicist Patrick O’Reilly, who was doing public relations work for Burum during the Colonies settlement negotiations, Aleman said “no.”

Aleman also told Mandel he never discussed with O’Reilly what O’Reilly may have observed at a meeting at an Ontario hotel in October 2006, in which Erwin, Postmus and Burum also attended to discuss the settlement. Aleman said the meeting occurred at the Sheraton, but the meeting actually occurred at the Doubletree Hotel, another fact the defense camp drilled Aleman on.

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