By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
Published: April 27, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Updated: April 28, 2018 at 12:21 am

Sentencing for former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus was delayed again Friday after his attorney filed a motion to withdraw Postmus’ 2011 guilty plea to corruption charges, claiming Postmus was addicted to drugs, under duress and coerced by investigators.

“These pleas were not knowing or voluntary under any reasonable interpretation of those words,” attorney Jeffrey Lawrence said in his motion filed Friday in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Initially a targeted defendant in the Colonies corruption case, Postmus pleaded guilty to 15 felonies for crimes committed at the Assessor’s Office in 2007 and 2008. He also pleaded guilty to taking a $100,000 bribe from Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum in 2007 in exchange for voting, when he was chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, to approve a $102 million settlement between the county and Burum’s Rancho Cucamonga investor group, Colonies Partners LP.

The settlement ended a longstanding legal dispute over flood-control improvements at Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads.

The marathon nine-month Colonies trial ended last year when three of the four defendants were acquitted and the case was dismissed against the fourth defendant after his jury announced it was deadlocked. Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt, were acquitted after their jury deliberated a day, and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin’s case was subsequently dismissed after his jury announced it was “hopelessly deadlocked” after nearly two weeks of deliberations.

Prosecutors told Judge Michael A. Smith they need at least until October to respond to Lawrence’s motion, which they said lacked foundation and failed to state legal grounds for withdrawing Postmus’ plea. Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel urged Smith to deny Lawrence’s motion and pressed for Postmus to be be sentenced immediately, saying it was a “day the citizens of this county have long waited for.”

“This is a delay tactic clearly on its face,” Madel said. She said prosecutors intend to “fully explore and aggressively look into” Lawrence’s claims.

Postmus originally was scheduled for sentencing in January, but that was delayed after he fired his two attorneys — Stephen Levine, who represented Postmus in the Assessor’s Office case, and Richard Farquhar, who represented him in the Colonies case. Lawrence requested the postponement so he could review the case files, and announced he would be filing the motion to withdraw Postmus’ guilty plea.

The San Diego County Probation Department has recommended Postmus serve four years in prison, Lawrence said. The department was asked to review the case and make a sentencing recommendation due to concerns of potential conflict of interest in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Postmus, 46, of Victorville is an admitted methamphetamine addict who now claims to have been clean and sober since 2012. But he was at the peak of his addiction when he came under fire by the grand jury and district attorney investigators in 2008 for using his elective office of county assessor to run a political operation at taxpayer expense. Former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, facing criminal charges himself and looking to cut a deal with prosecutors, approached district attorney investigators in November 2008 with information that launched the investigation into the Colonies case and subsequent indictment and prosecution of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk.

In December, Aleman was sentenced to six months in jail, but served only half that time. He began serving his sentence at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on Jan. 24, and was released from custody on Monday, April 23, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Olivia Bozek said.

Lawrence maintained in his motion that investigators exploited Postmus’ “drug-induced fear and paranoia” to “hoodwink” him into making a false confession and guilty plea .

“As part of their efforts to prosecute Paul Biane, Mark Kirk, James Erwin, Jeffrey Burum and others connected with the Colonies Partners LP’s 2006 settlement with the County of San Bernardino, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office callously took advantage of Mr. Postmus’ debilitating drug addiction, which they were aware of at least as early as 2009, two years prior to Mr. Postmus’ plea,” Lawrence said.

To read expanded article, click here.