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

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 06/29/17 – 12:13 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> After nearly seven months of sometimes confounding testimony, the prosecution rested this week in San Bernardino County’s Colonies bribery case.

The defense will next argue for dismissal of the charges that claim a developer made payoffs to get a 2006 Board of Supervisors approval for a favorable $102 million land dispute settlement.

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday for three of the defendants and Thursday for Jim Erwin, a fourth defendant who has a separate jury. Each time, jurors applauded.

Judge Michael A. Smith set Wednesday and Thursday of next week to consider defense motions that could result in tossing some or all of the charges against Erwin, a former assistant assessor; Jeff Burum, a Rancho Cucamonga developer; former county Supervisor Paul Biane; and Mark Kirk, the former chief of staff for former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

The dismissal motions are routine. They let the judge rule on the strength of the prosecution’s case after it has presented all of its witnesses and evidence before the trial moves on to any defense presentations, final arguments and jury deliberations.

If the case is still in play, defense witness testimony is projected to start July 12 and go through month’s end; closing arguments are expected for mid-August.

Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices are jointly prosecuting the case.

They allege Kirk, Biane and former defendant Bill Postmus each took $100,000 bribes, which were reported as contributions to political action committees from Rancho Cucamonga investor group Colonies Partners LP, to gain approval for the $102 million court settlement over flood control work at Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively.

The prosecution’s case has depended primarily on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of Postmus, a former county assessor, and his former assistant assessor, Adam Aleman, who both struck plea deals with prosecutors to cooperate and testify in exchange for lighter sentences.

Postmus was chairman of the Board of Supervisors when it approved the Colonies settlement 3-2 in November 2006.

Defense attorneys attacked both men’s credibility during trial.

Aleman’s accounts of 2006 meetings where he claimed to have witnessed Postmus, Burum and others discussing the Colonies case before settlement did not stand up to defense scrutiny. In one instance, Aleman described a meeting at a country club patio that defense attorney Jennifer Keller said could not have taken place when Aleman said; the facility was torn down at that time for remodeling.

Postmus, whose affiliated PACs received a total of $100,000 from Colonies Partners in June 2007, insisted during his eight-plus days on the witness stand that he never considered the PAC contributions a bribe, that Burum never crossed the line into bribery, and he knew nothing of the PAC contributions until after the settlement.

A methamphetamine addict during the time of the Colonies settlement, Postmus said on the witness stand, “My mind is kind of messed up.” He has claimed sobriety since 2012.

All the defendants have denied any wrongdoing. They said the contributions, which were from Colonies Partners, where Burum is one of the co-managing partners, were public donations to legal political action committees and were part of Colonies’ attempts to mend fences after the contentious legal dispute, and were available online for public review.

Prosecutors, however, allege the political action committees were a sham — secretly controlled by the county supervisors who approved the settlement or members of their staff.

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