Bea Cortez

December 11, 2009

The womanizing scandal plaguing district attorney Mike Ramos has plummeted to new depths with the revelation that his office failed to take prosecutorial action with regard to the alleged criminal activity of a woman he is purported to have been personally involved with.

While Ramos has been publicly linked with at least a dozen women who either work for him in the county prosecutor’s office or with whom his official position brings him into contact, the circumstance entailed in the most recently identified liaison is one with a public official whose only direct connection to the district attorney’s office is that she was potentially subject to prosecution though never criminally charged by the office’s public integrity unit.

And while there has been mounting public scrutiny of Ramos’s extramarital affairs and their impact upon the function of the district attorney’s office since May, only one of those previously revealed affairs which involved Ramos’ taxpayer paid trips to Sacramento to meet a woman there involved any potential criminality. The most recently revealed of Ramos’ several dalliances represents the second time the district attorney’s indiscretions have elevated from being an unseemly controversy to one of criminal malfeasance.

Grand Terrace councilwoman Bea Cortes, who appears to have engaged in a violation of Government Code Section 1090, is the most recently identified of Ramos’s alleged paramours.

Cortes dismissed reports of a sexual relationship between her and the district attorney as exaggerated and overblown, insisting that her connection with Ramos is “professional” and “political” in nature.

Nevertheless, the level of intimacy between Ramos and Cortes allowed her to persuade Ramos to have his public integrity unit file charges against one of Cortes’ political rivals on the Grand Terrace City Council relating to activity that was nearly identical to what Cortes herself participated in but was never charged with.

Up until three months ago, Cortes for several years had a professional relationship with Terra Loma Real Estate. She also consistently voted, as a member of the Grand Terrace City Council, to approve the city’s contractual arrangement with Terra Loma as well as the consent calendars that are a part of the council’s agenda at its twice monthly meetings. The consent calendar, in Grand Terrace as in all cities, typically contains multiple items pertaining to the function of the city government, all of which are deemed non-controversial and routine matters and are bundled together so they can be approved in a single yes or no vote of the council. It is unheard of, in Grand Terrace and elsewhere, for the consent calendar not to pass and it is generally approved by a unanimous vote of the city council, although on rare occasion a dissenting vote on a consent calendar vote is registered.

In Grand Terrace as elsewhere, the consent calendar contains the city’s check register, that is, a listing of the checks that have been written to the city’s various vendors and contractors.

Among the companies that have rendered service to the city of Grand Terrace over the last several years is Terra Loma Real Estate, which provided property management services to the city. City payments to Terra Loma, as to all other companies, are made by check. Those payments are then ratified by the city council as an item on the consent calendar.

Records available to the Sentinel show that the city made 13 payments totaling $8,558.47 to Terra Loma between August 2008 and September 2009. Cortes participated in the votes to approve at least ten of those.

While Cortes insists that she did nothing illegal in casting those votes, Government Code Section 1090 prohibits an elected official from participating in a vote on any matter in which he or she has a financial interest. A payment to a business owned by that official or a business that employs the official or one with which the official is professionally affiliated is construed as having a bearing on that official’s financial interest.

In August, Cortes said she had not made any money in the previous 24 months as a real estate agent with Terra Loma so she therefore had no interest tied up with the company. “I have not received money from Terra Loma Real Estate,” she said. “Due to the economy I have not been able to sell any property. For two years I have not been selling any property in affiliation with them [Terra Loma] I have never sold anything for them.” She said she had been working out of the Terra Loma office “a little over three years.”

The sales drought, Cortes said, has lasted “at least two years.”

Moreover, she said, “I spoke with the city attorney and he advised me there was no conflict.”

Cortes acknowledged that she is professionally affiliated with Terra Loma Real Estate and its owner, Gene Carlstrom, but said that payments the city makes to Terra Loma for property management services are not passed along to her.

Last summer, Cortes acknowledged, “I have my real estate license in his [Carlstrom’s] office. Whenever I sell any property, I have to have a licensed broker over me. He is the broker. I have my license under Mr Gene Carlstrom.”

Three months ago, after a minor controversy broke out in Grand Terrace following publicity about Cortes’ votes to approve a contract for and payments to the company she was professionally affiliated with, Cortes ceased voting on the consent calendar items related to Terra Loma, and the city’s contract for services with Terra Loma was cancelled shortly thereafter. In the same time frame, Cortes obtained her own real estate broker’s license and ended her affiliation with Terra Loma.

The councilwoman insisted that city attorney John Harper had examined the potential for conflict inherent in the circumstance that existed up until August and found her in compliance with the law, including Government Code section 1090 and any other statutes that are applicable.

Cortes said that both she and Harper deemed her votes as a member of the Grand Terrace City Council to approve the contract with Terra Loma and make the payments to it as legal.

Nevertheless, Cortes played a leading role in having the district attorney’s office investigate and then prosecute another member of the Grand Terrace city council, Jim Miller, when he cast votes ratifying that city’s consent calendar which have been construed as providing him with a financial benefit.

On July 15, Grand Terrace City Councilman Jim Miller was arrested by San Bernardino County district attorney’s investigators and charged with violating Government Code section 1090. That charge stemmed from votes Miller had made to approve the consent calendar which contained check registers that contained payments for the city’s legal advertisements that were printed in his wife’s newspaper, the Grand Terrace City News. Miller’s wife is the sole owner of that paper and two others, the Colton City News and the Loma Linda City News.

Miller had never voted to authorize the city to purchase the ads that ran in his wife’s newspaper. The decision to run advertisements and legal notices in the Grand Terrace City News had been made by city staff members who had determined that the rates in the Grand Terrace City News were lower than or comparable to those offered by competing newspapers. Like Cortes, Miller had relied upon an assurance provided by city attorney John Harper that as long as the newspaper was his wife’s sole property, the city’s purchase of the ads from her represented for Jim Miller no conflict.

Miller’s circumstance differed from that involving Cortes and Terra Loma in that Miller had not voted to approve the city’s contract with his wife’s newspapers as Cortes had voted to approve the city’s contract with Terra Loma.

By 2008 Miller’s formerly cordial relationship with Cortes had grown somewhat strained in that he had emerged as the leading opponent to promoting then-acting city manager Steve Berry to the permanent city manager’s position. Cortes was the most enthusiastic of Berry’s supporters on the city council.

As the effort to elevate Berry to the unquestioned top municipal management post progressed, Cortes, in conjunction with Berry, undertook to compromise Miller’s authority.

Both began providing the district attorney’s office with information relating to the city utilizing Miller’s wife’s newspaper, as well as the consent calendar voting that ratified payment for city legal notices and ads that ran in that publication.

Brazenly, Cortes made this approach to the district attorney’s office despite her own parallel entanglement in the similar circumstance involving Terra Loma and the city.

The recently emerging information relating to her personal involvement with Mike Ramos explicates in good measure how it was that Cortes had the confidence to seek an indictment of Miller when she was similarly involved in a matter involving a potential Government Code 1090 violation herself.

The clear implication is that there was an understanding that her relationship with Ramos provided her with de facto immunity from prosecution. What is more, her relationship with Ramos appears to have given her the ability to influence the district attorney’s office to take action against her political opposition.

Miller, who was arraigned on September 30, has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Richard Ewaniszyk has wrung from the prosecutor’s office an admission that Miller’s votes pertained merely to ratifying city staff’s issuance of checks to satisfy its legal obligations to pay for services already rendered. Ewaniszyk has vowed to force the district attorney’s office to take the matter to trial if it does not agree to dismiss the charges against his client.

Within the last fortnight, details with regard to Ramos and Cortes and their carryings-on have emerged. Attendees at the 2008 City County Conference held at the Lake Arrowhead Resort say the couple was witnessed in a host of intimacies at that function, but were unable to gauge the length or duration of the affair.

Cortes offered a somewhat equivocal disavowal of a liaison with Ramos when she was directly approached with regard to the issue by the Sentinel.

“Of course, I am denying it,” she said of reports, including ones that had been posted on the Internet, relating to an affair between her and the district attorney and that they remained involved. “Who would intimate that? Who would say that?”

Cortes, who has been active in Republican circles within the county, acknowledged that she has a public association with Ramos, who is also a Republican.
Nevertheless, she said, “My relationship with Mike Ramos is a professional business relationship, a political one. It is not sexual.”

Jeff McConnell, who is active in Grand Terrace politics and one of Cortes’ most ardent political supporters, suggested that the reports of physical intimacy between the councilwoman and the district attorney were a misreading of the situation.

“She is active in politics and associates with many public officials and politicians,” McConnell said. “That is just what she does and it is no different than what just about every other elected official does. To suggest there is something more to it than that is just not right.”

Under less formal circumstances, however, Cortes has been less discrete, engaging in rodomontade in which she has claimed Ramos as her inamorato, or otherwise alluded to those within her circle that she enjoys an uncommon communion with the district attorney on both a personal and political level.

Ramos was mum on the subject of the exact nature of his relationship with Cortes.

An examination of documents released by the district attorney’s office indicates that it was Cortes who approached Ramos and his office’s public integrity unit with regard to Miller.

According to district attorney’s office investigator Robert Ransdell, on October 27, 2008, “the district attorney’s office public integrity unit received information, which had been sent to the district attorney’s office by an informant who wished to remain anonymous. This information alleged that Grand Terrace City Councilman Jim Miller had possibly violated Government Code 1090 by engaging in a conflict of interest.”

That informant has been identified to the Sentinel as Bea Cortes. According to an individual involved in Grand Terrace politics and governance, prior to Miller’s arrest, Cortes was “bragging” that she had arranged through Mike Ramos to have Miller arrested. According to the individual who spoke with the Sentinel, it is anticipated that s/he will be called to court to testify about Cortes’ statement and that s/he will at that time repeat under oath the statement made to the Sentinel.
Efforts to achieve from the district attorney’s public integrity unit an explanation as to why it had proceeded with a Government Code Section 1090 criminal filing against Miller related to his consent calendar votes pertaining to the Grand Terrace City News while declining to charge Cortes under the same code section for her votes to approve the Terra Loma contract and consent calendar items relating to payments to that company were unsuccessful.

“I have no comment, thank you,” said deputy district attorney John Goritz, who is prosecuting Miller on behalf of Ramos.

At the December 2 Colton Rotary Club luncheon, Ramos was asked directly about the discrepancy between a case such as Miller’s and the circumstance surrounding Cortes and the resultant perception that his office was engaging in selective prosecutions.

“I can’t answer that,” Ramos said. “There is an ongoing investigation.”

At the behest of the county board of supervisors, county human services director Andrew Lamberto, county counsel Ruth Stringer and the Los Angeles-based law firm Curiale Hirschfield Kraemer is carrying out an investigation into charges of sexual harassment within the district attorney’s office, which includes allegations that Ramos engaged in affairs or made welcome or unwelcome sexual advances to employees of his office and other woman.

Among those woman publicly linked to Ramos in this way are former deputy district attorney Ann Marie Duncan; Kelly Snelling, who worked as Ramos’ campaign manager and treasurer; deputy district attorney Jane Allen; deputy district attorney Beth Houser; deputy district attorney Denise Yoakum; Brenda Rossi, a paralegal; Cheryl Barnes, an investigative technician; Megan Wagoner, an investigative technician; Cynthia Shaum, an evidence technician; Suzanne Hunter, a training consultant for the California District Attorneys Association; and San Bernardino County Public Defender Doreen Boxer. Curiale Hirschfield Kraemer has been paid $140,000 for its work in investigating the matter.

It is anticipated that the firm will deliver its report on its findings, said to include confirmation of Ramos’ serial womanizing, as early as next week.