Jim Erwin smiling during a September court hearing where it was announced he will not be retried in the Colonies bribery case. He filed a $25 million claim against the county on Tuesday alleging, among other things, malicious prosecution.

By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
Published: November 1, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Updated: November 2, 2017 at 10:16 am

Jim Erwin, a former defendant in the ill-fated Colonies corruption case that ended with Erwin’s case being dismissed and three other defendants acquitted, filed a $25 million claim against San Bernardino County and the state on Wednesday.

Erwin, 55, of Highland, alleges malicious prosecution, false arrest/imprisonment, fabrication of evidence, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation, and civil rights violations in connection with the 8-year-old criminal case and marathon trial that began Jan. 4 and ended Sept. 22 with all charges being dismissed against Erwin. His jury announced Sept. 13 it was “hopelessly deadlocked.”

It began in November 2008, when former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, facing multiple felonies in connection with crimes he committed at the Assessor’s Office in 2007 under the reign of former Assessor Bill Postmus, approached district attorney investigators with information, looking to cut a deal. He recounted a story of bribery involving the $102 million legal settlement between the county and Rancho Cucamonga investor group Colonies Partners LP in November 2006, which helped lead to an indictment in May 2011 against Erwin, Colonies co-managing partner Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

The allegations were never proven true.

“Adam Aleman ‘initiated the proceeding’ by knowingly making a false report to (district attorney) investigators during his November 2008 interview,” Erwin alleges in his claim, a precursor to a lawsuit. “Aleman continued to give false statements to DA investigators from 2008 to 2011 in a series of interviews both in person, telephonically, and at trial, particularly given the allegations in the indictment that there was no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity relating to the settlement agreement prior to Aleman’s November 2008 statements.”

Aleman’s attorney, Grover Porter, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Following the August acquittal of Burum, Biane and Kirk, jurors said prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any of the defendants were guilty of the crimes they stood accused of.

Defense attorney Jennifer Keller, one of the attorneys who represented Burum, said jurors were particularly troubled by the testimony of Aleman, who admitted to lying to the grand jury and authorities, and county Supervisor Josie Gonzales, who was impeached several times regarding a 2006 China trip in which she alleged to have seen Burum, who was not in China at the time and produced a passport to prove it.

Burum’s lead attorney, Stephen G. Larson, said at the time of the acquittal that the case was “political retribution” and was “irresponsibly investigated.”

Representatives from the Attorney General’s and District Attorney’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

County spokesman David Wert said in an email Wednesday that the county “carefully considers all claims and acts in the best interests of everyone involved.”

The county has 45 days to either resolve or reject the claim.

Among those named in Erwin’s claim include prosecutors and investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, including former Attorneys General Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris, former Senior Assistant Attorney General Gary Schons, Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel, District Attorney Mike Ramos, Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope, and Robert Schreiber and Hollis “Bud” Randles, who were both the lead investigators on the Colonies case.

Erwin stated in his claim that, should the county reject the claim, he will file a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, requesting a trial by jury and punitive damages.

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