Former San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane, acquitted last August in an epic public corruption case that spanned nearly eight years, filed claims against the county and state on Friday alleging malicious prosecution. He is seeking more than $10 million in damages.

By Joe Nelson | | San Bernardino Sun
February 26, 2018 at 11:05 pm

Former San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane filed malicious prosecution claims against the county and state on Friday, Feb. 23, seeking more than $10 million in damages, making him the last of the former Colonies corruption case defendants to do so.

The vindicated defendants are collectively seeking more than $100 million in damages from the county and state, alleging their reputations were sullied and their lives shattered during the nearly eight-year criminal case. The four were accused of engaging in a sophisticated bribery scheme to fix a $102 million settlement between the county and Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006.

The Colonies settlement culminated nearly five years of litigaton between Colonies Partners and the county over flood-control improvements at Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively.

In his suit, Biane alleges prosecutors at the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices “obtained a tainted indictment … based on fabricated evidence and testimony.”

A grand jury handed down an indictment in May 2011 against Biane, Colonies developer Jeff Burum, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, the former chief of staff for former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt. Years of motions and appeals followed, including a hearing before the state Supreme Court in 2013.

The Colonies trial commenced in January 2017 and did not conclude until September, with all charges being dropped against Erwin. The month prior, a jury acquitted Burum, Biane and Kirk. Jurors said prosecutors did not present evidence proving that bribery drove the settlement, and that they did not find some of the prosecution’s key witnesses, including former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman and county Supervisor Josie Gonzales, credible.

Biane’s attorney, Dale Galipo, said in a telephone interview that what happened to Biane and his former co-defendants raises questions about how the case was put together.

“It raises some very interesting issues such as, number one, when can someone criminally prosecute someone, and if someone goes to trial and is acquitted and their lives have been ruined, what are the remedies?” Galipo said.

An experienced trial attorney, Galipo has developed a reputation over the years as a hard-fighting civil rights lawyer who mainly represents clients alleging excessive use of force or wrongful death at the hands of police officers or sheriff’s deputies. He admitted Biane’s case is a departure from the cases he typically takes on, but after discussing the case with Burum’s and Erwin’s attorneys, Stephen Larson and Rajan Maline, respectively, Galipo decided to take Biane on as a client.

“It’s not enough that there was an acquittal. We’re going to have to show there was conscious wrongdoing on behalf of the involved parties,” Galipo said. “We believe there was false evidence that was fabricated. We believe that the people behind the prosecution had a motive, and that they knew or should have known from the beginning that this case had no merit and should not have been prosecuted.”

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