James Erwin, is the former chief of staff for county Supervisor Neil Derry and a former assistant assessor for San Bernardino county. (Courtesy photo to The Sun/SCNG)
By Joe Nelson, The Sun
and Richard K. De Atley, The Press-Enterprise
Posted: 07/06/17 – 4:07 PM PDT |
The judge in San Bernardino County’s Colonies corruption case on Thursday dismissed a felony charge of forgery against former assistant assessor Jim Erwin, one of four defendants fighting to have their charges tossed on grounds of insufficient evidence.
But Judge Michael A. Smith declined to dismiss one charge of failing to file a tax return for the year 2008 and two of three perjury charges associated with Erwin’s alleged failure to report gifts and income on his Form 700 statement of economic interest forms, when Erwin was serving as assistant assessor.
On the forgery charge, Smith said he was convinced that Erwin did not need the mask of a forged authorizing signature to pay himself a $5,000 consulting fee from his own political action committee, Committee for Effective Government, in 2008.
Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel said Erwin’s use of an authorizing note with an allegedly forged name showed an intent to defraud.
But Erwin’s defense attorney Rajan Maline said the note was meaningless, because Erwin attached an invoice with his own signature, and the treasurer who signed the check knew Erwin was in charge of the PAC.
“I see no evidence that Mr. Erwin could not have gotten the money on his own,” Smith said during Thursday’s proceedings. “I find there is no evidence to support the intent requirement of the forgery charge.”
Prosecutors allege the PAC was set up by Erwin to receive a $100,000 bribe from Colonies Partners in March 2007.
Smith began hearing dismissal motions by defense attorneys on Wednesday, a typically routine procedure after the prosecution rests its case, which it did on June 29. It allows the judge to consider the strength of the case before it moves into defense presentation of witnesses, final arguments and jury deliberations.
The defense is tentatively scheduled to begin presenting its evidence and witnesses on July 17. The trial is now in its seventh month.
On Wednesday, Smith dismissed a key bribery charge against defendant Mark Kirk, the former chief of staff to former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt, but he sustained charges of improper influence of a public official and conflict of interest, meaning those charges will remain before jurors in the trial.
On Tuesday, Smith will rule on whether to dismiss a charge against Kirk of aiding and abetting former county supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane in the misappropriation of public funds.
Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices are jointly prosecuting the case. They allege three county officials took $100,000 bribes, which were reported as campaign contributions, from Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum to gain approval for a $102 million court settlement over flood control work at a 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland by Rancho Cucamonga investor group Colonies Partners LP, of which Burum is a co-managing partner.
Defendants include Burum, Erwin, Kirk and former county supervisor Paul Biane.
All the defendants have denied any wrongdoing, saying the contributions, which were from Colonies Partners, were public donations to legal political action committees and were part of the Colonies’ attempts to mend fences after the contentious legal dispute and were available online for public review.
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