Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/03/2010 07:42:05 PM PDT
The chief of staff for San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane said in a letter Monday that he has been the victim of repeated harassment and retaliation for cooperating with prosecutors in an ongoing corruption probe.
In the letter addressed to his boss, Brown outs himself as a witness in the criminal investigation of the county’s $102 million legal settlement with Rancho Cucamonga-based developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006. State and local prosecutors allege the settlement was tainted by conspiracy, bribery and extortion.
Brown, 37, said he has been under the care of a medical doctor for job-related stress, and pleaded in his letter for the alleged misconduct to stop. He said he has “been questioned and continues to be questioned” about the investigation and his cooperation in it, and has received veiled threats of termination.
“I am in possession of direct e-mail conversations and messages that detail a concerted effort that seek to affect my employment. I am aware that the information contained in these e-mails and messages implicates parties under suspicion and criminal complaints filed by the District Attorney and Attorney General,” Brown said.
However, he did not name names.
“These are very serious allegations, and I’m very concerned,” Supervisor Josie Gonzales said Monday. “This is up to human resources and county counsel to immediately investigate, and the situation should be taken very seriously. This is not a normal chief of staff type of behavior.”
In a telephone interview Monday, Brown said he didn’t want to make the situation worse than it was by naming names, and would only say there are several people involved.
“I would say it involved current county employees and people outside the county who are not affiliated with the county,” Brown said.
Biane said he and Brown have “an ongoing dialogue about all county issues,” but that Brown did not talk to him about any harassment or threats.
“I don’t know what the harassment is,” Biane said. “I don’t know of the e-mail chain or the communication Matt is making reference to. It’s not a communication from me to anybody else.”
As for Brown’s concern that he could lose is job, Biane said he shouldn’t worry, calling his chief of staff a “stellar” employee and friend. But Biane also said he is concerned that Brown aired his grievances to the entire board, rather than dealing with it internally.
“Obviously I have issue with how he’s gone about bringing his personnel matter to the forefront and to the public,” Biane said. “It’s not what I would expect from anybody on my staff. He and I have to come to some agreement about how we’re going to work together going forward.”
Asked if that meant Brown’s employment was in jeopardy after all, Biane said, “I’ll make a decision with Matt.”
Brown has been Biane’s chief of staff since Biane was elected to the board in 2002, and served as Biane’s campaign manager prior to that.
County spokesman David Wert said he was unaware of any harassment or retaliation Brown is alleging to have occurred, and that it was too soon to tell what action the county would take or if a human resources investigation would be launched.
Brown’s letter was carbon-copied to Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope, whose Public Integrity Unit is heading up the corruption probe.
“We are not going to confirm or deny that Mr. Brown has cooperated with the District Attorney. It’s an ongoing investigation and we don’t intend to reveal our witnesses or investigative methods until it is time to do so in court,” office spokeswoman Susan Mickey said, declining further comment.
Mark Kirk, chief of staff for Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Ovitt, said in an e-mail he “really enjoyed working with Matt” and hoped none of the accusations were true.
In February, the District Attorney and state Attorney General’s offices charged former Board of Supervisors Chairman and county Assessor Bill Postmus and former assistant assessor Jim Erwin with multiple felonies, including criminal conspiracy to illegally obtain the settlement.
The settlement culminated four years of contentious legal battle over flood control easements at the developer’s Colonies Crossroads development in Upland.
Prosecutors allege Colonies’ co-managing partner Jeff Burum offered Biane, Postmus, Kirk and Erwin bribes of $100,000 each, which were funneled into the accounts of political action committees controlled by the four or members of their staffs within a year of the settlement.
Burum has not been charged with any crime.
One of the PACS to receive $100,000, San Bernardino County Young Republicans, was operated by Brown, but prosecutors allege Biane secretly controlled it.
In his letter, Brown said he believes that the conduct being exhibited by the offending parties is a “direct effort to intimidate and interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”
“I am asking that I not be subjected to continued harassment, reprisal, retaliation, or adverse action as a result of my cooperation with law enforcement,” Brown said.
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