Mark Kirk, 36, director, governmental relations, county Office of Legislative Affairs; former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt, listens to testimony during an arraignment hearing in a San Bernardino Superior Courtroom August 19, 2011. (File photo)

By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
Published: July 30, 2018 at 5:19 pm | Updated: July 31, 2018 at 7:17 am

Vindicated public corruption figure Mark Kirk on Monday sued San Bernardino County and District Attorney Mike Ramos in federal court for $40 million, alleging malicious prosecution in perhaps the biggest and most expensive prosecutorial fiasco in county history.

The 43-year-old Oak Hills resident alleges in his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside, that he was the victim of a “retaliatory campaign” following a $102 million settlement between the county and Rancho Cucamonga investor group Colonies Partners LP in November 2006. The settlement, in Colonies’ favor, ended nearly five years of heated litigation over flood control improvements at Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial developments in Upland, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively.

The lawsuit also names as defendants retired Deputy District Attorney R. Lewis Cope; Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel; district attorney investigators Hollis “Bud” Randles and Robert Schreiber; former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman; county Supervisor Josie Gonzales; Gov. Jerry Brown, the former attorney general of California; and former Assistant Attorney General Gary Schons.

Seven months after the settlement, Colonies Partners contributed $100,000 to a political action committee founded by Kirk, Alliance for Ethical Government. Prosecutors allege the contribution, as well as four other contributions totaling $300,000 that Colonies contributed to other PACs, were bribes or payments for helping deliver or facilitate the historic settlement for Colonies Partners.

The former defendants — Kirk, Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and former county Supervisor Paul Biane — maintained the contributions were above board and in good faith.

“The goal of these PAC contributions was to support pro-development politicians and candidates for political office who root out corrupt elements of the county that had plagued the Colonies civil litigation,” according to the lawsuit.

Those affiliated with the other PACs that received contributions from Colonies were former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus, Biane, and Erwin, who served as a go-between for Burum, a co-managing partner at Colonies Partners, and the county during the settlement negotiations in 2006.

Kirk served as chief of staff for former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt, who along with Postmus and Biane comprised the majority vote on the Board of Supervisors that approved the Colonies settlement in November 2006.

Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices alleged the PACs were shams, used as vehicles to funnel the alleged bribes, which the defendants denied, maintaining they were above board, transparent and documented properly.

The lawsuit says the contribution to the Alliance for Ethical Government was made in May 2017, approximately seven months after the settlement had been reached in the Colonies lawsuit. “Mr. Kirk was the founder and the executive director of the AEG and the PAC was formed to pursue ethical government in the county and to make lawful political contributions to candidates who would serve the citizens in an ethical and honorable manner,” the suit states.

The Colonies case spanned nine years from the onset of the investigation to its culmination in September 2017 with all charges dropped against defendant Jim Erwin after his jury announced it was hopelessly deadlocked. A month prior, in August 2017, a separate jury acquitted Kirk, Burum and Biane after less than a day of deliberating.

The trial proved disastrous for prosecutors, with witnesses flubbing their testimony or being uncooperative. Jurors were sharply critical, saying prosecutors did not meet their burden of proof and put the onus on them to review thousands of investigative reports and documents and piece the case together themselves.

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