Former Colonies trial bribery defendant, Mark Kirk, walks his daughter Audrey, 6, to school on Wednesday, November 8, 2017. Kirk walks his daughter to school nearly every day. (Sarah Alvarado for The Sun)

By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
Published: February 5, 2018 at 11:35 am | Updated: February 5, 2018 at 11:55 am

Mark Kirk remembers one of the longest nights of his life: May 9, 2011 — the night before he surrendered himself to authorities at the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

Facing criminal charges in connection with a far-reaching bribery case involving a wealthy developer and some of the county’s top officials, Kirk, and his wife, Erin, braced themselves for what was about to come.

“I put my 6-month-old daughter to bed that night, not knowing when I was going to see her again,” said Kirk, 43, a former chief of staff for former county supervisor Gary Ovitt. “There were lots of tears, but not with her. We kept it together for her. There’s no explaining that to a 6-month-old.”

 

The following day, Kirk, Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, then county Supervisor Paul Biane, and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin were arrested and jailed in what prosecutors called an elaborate bribery scheme involving a $102 million legal settlement the county paid to Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP, of which Burum is a co-managing partner, in November 2006.

More than six years later, on Aug. 28, 2017, following an 8-month trial in San Bernardino Superior Court, Kirk, Burum and Biane were acquitted on all charges, found “not guilty” by a jury of their peers after about a day of deliberation. A month later, Erwin’s jury announced it was “hopelessly deadlocked,” and prosecutors subsequently dropped the case, citing “witness problems” they felt were “unresolvable.” Erwin had a separate jury because certain evidence against him was not admissible against the other defendants.

Despite their vindication, the damage to the former defendants had been done and was irreversible.

“The trial’s over, but the effects of what these guys did is not over,” Kirk said during a recent interview at his Hesperia home. “It was wrong what they did, and that’s got to stop. As long as they’re allowed to continue to do what they do, no one is safe.”

LEGAL ACTION

Kirk, as well as the other former defendants, are demanding compensation for the financial hit they took following their arrests and the eight-year legal battle that followed. Since Kirk’s, Burum’s and Biane’s acquittal and Erwin’s case being dismissed, all but Biane, as well as Colonies Partners, have filed claims with the county alleging malicious prosecution and that the county failed to indemnify them in the criminal case. Damages sought top $100 million. Federal civil rights lawsuits may follow.

Erwin was the first out the door, filing a $25 million claim on Nov. 1, 2017. Colonies Partners followed, filing a $45 million claim on December 14, followed by Kirk on Dec. 18 with a $35 million claim. And on Jan. 30, Burum filed his claim but did not specify a monetary figure in damages.

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