John Dino DeFazio waits in the hallway of San Bernardino County Courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012.

By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
Published: August 2, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Updated: August 3, 2018 at 7:19 am

High Desert real estate developer and former Colonies corruption case figure John Dino Defazio has filed claims against San Bernardino County and District Attorney Mike Ramos seeking $20 million in damages, alleging malicious prosecution for perjury charges that were dismissed by a judge in January.

Defazio, 58, filed the four claims with the county July 27 on behalf of himself, his ex-wife and their twin children. He claims the six felony perjury charges filed against him constituted retaliation by the District Attorney’s Office “because he would not lie to investigators” and be their “puppet.”

Prosecutors alleged the Victorville resident lied to the grand jury in 2009 about his involvement in a political action committee they said was a sham set up to funnel a total of $100,000 in bribes from a Rancho Cucamonga developer to then Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus in July 2007. Postmus, prosecutors alleged, secretly controlled the PAC, but Defazio, the chairman of the committee, denied that, insisting he controlled the PAC’s funds and that it was set up for legitimate purposes, not to pay a bribe.

Postmus, who briefly served as county assessor in 2007 and part of 2008, initially was a targeted defendant in a public corruption case in which he, Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, and three former top county officials were accused of taking $100,000 bribes from Burum in exchange for approving or facilitating a $102 million settlement between the county and Burum’s investor group, Colonies Partners LP, in November 2006.

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

Postmus entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in March 2011 and agreed to testify against others in exchange for leniency. He is now seeking to have his guilty plea withdrawn, arguing he was heavily addicted to methamphetamine at the time, under duress and pressured by district attorney’s investigators to provide information that fit their narrative of the case.

A grand jury in May 2011 indicted Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt. They all maintained their innocence from the start and alleged the prosecution was politically motivated.

“Investigators were seeking this story because it fit in to their broader goal of indicting Jeff Burum and Jim Erwin in the ‘Colonies case,’ ” according to the claims.

The county has 45 days to respond to the claims, which are required precursors to a lawsuit. County spokeswoman Felisa Cardona said, “The county carefully considers all claims and acts in the best interest of everyone involved.”

District attorney’s spokesman Christopher Lee declined to comment on Thursday.

Should the county reject the claims, Defazio’s attorney, Rajan Maline, plans to file a malicious prosecution lawsuit in federal court, as he did with former Colonies defendant Jim Erwin, whose case was dismissed by a judge last September after a jury announced it was “hopelessly deadlocked.” Prosecutor R. Lewis Cope informed the court Erwin would not be retried because of witness problems that could not be resolved.

A month before Erwin’s case was dismissed, a separate jury acquitted Burum, Erwin and Biane after less than a day of deliberating. Jurors were highly critical of the eight-month trial, saying prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proof establishing that Burum had bribed the other defendants.

Maline also represented Erwin in the Colonies case, and only recently began representing Defazio.

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