By IMRAN GHORI
Published: 3/28/2011 07:57 PM
Special Section: San Bernardino County Corruption Probe
Former San Bernardino County Assessor and Supervisor Bill Postmus pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to corruption charges after more than two years of fighting the allegations in court.
As part of the plea agreement, Postmus, 39, pleaded guilty to 15 felony counts against him including accepting bribes, misuse of public funds and possession of methamphetamine. However, all but three of the counts will be dismissed based on his cooperation with prosecutors, including as a possible witness in two ongoing county cases.
The remaining three charges — conspiring to accept a bribe, conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds — carry a maximum combined penalty of five years in state prison, according to a district attorney’s news release.
The charges stem from two separate ongoing cases. One involves the assessor’s office where he is accused of misappropriation of funds. The other case stems from his previous role as a county supervisor and involves bribery charges in the $102 million Colonies settlement.
In a statement, District Attorney Mike Ramos said he plans to prosecute those cases — in which two former Postmus aides still face charges — vigorously.
Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith, who went over the terms with Postmus in court, said it will be up to a judge to decide his sentence and determine if he cooperated truthfully with prosecutors.
“There’s still a very real likelihood that you would be sentenced to jail or prison on the remaining three counts,” he told him.
Postmus, a Republican, spoke briefly, answering in the affirmative as Smith asked him if he understood the deal and entering the guilty pleas. He declined to comment as he left the courtroom.
His attorney, Stephen Levine, said that Postmus could not afford to keep fighting the case, noting he declared bankruptcy last year and had to ask the court to assign him legal representation.
“In the political climate today and based on Mr. Postmus’ finances, we felt it was in his best interest to bring this matter to some kind of conclusion, so we started negotiations with the district attorney’s office in that regard,” Levine said.
Until Monday, Postmus had repeatedly declared his innocence and accused prosecutors of a political vendetta.
Levine said he did not know what kind of information Postmus might provide prosecutors. He said Postmus already has submitted to one interview and likely will be questioned further.
Levine said it’s up to prosecutors to decide whether Postmus will be called to testify in the two ongoing cases and any possible other prosecutions.
Arrested and charged
Postmus was first arrested on drug charges in January 2009 and resigned as assessor a month later. Prosecutors later charged him with nine felony counts and a misdemeanor, including misuse of public funds, grand theft, perjury and possession of methamphetamine. Those charges related to his time at the assessor’s office, where he is accused of running a political shop and using the position for personal gain.
In February 2010, prosecutors announced additional charges against Postmus in a separate case, accusing him and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin of using illegal means including bribery to reach a $102 million legal settlement with Colonies Partners.
The county entered into the settlement with the Rancho Cucamonga development company in November 2006 when Postmus was on the Board of Supervisors. The settlement was reached after a nearly five-year legal battle between the county and Colonies over flood-control easements at the company’s Upland development.
The Colonies bribery case also included five unnamed and uncharged co-conspirators. The John Does were later identified as Jeff Burum and Dan Richards, co-managing members of Colonies Partners; former San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane, who voted for the settlement; Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt; and Patrick O’Reilly, a media consultant to Colonies.
None of the John Does have been charged and all have denied wrongdoing.
In a statement, the district attorney’s office said Postmus’ admission of a conflict of interest in the Colonies settlement could lead to further proceedings in civil court to void the settlement.
Ramos stated that the plea “demonstrates that public officials will be held accountable for violations of the public trust while in office.”
Rajan Maline, an attorney for Erwin, Postmus’ co-defendant in the Colonies case, said he does not believe that Postmus’ deal will affect his client.
“His plea is directly related to his conduct and nothing to do with Mr. Erwin’s conduct,” he said.
Maline said the agreement was not a surprise given Postmus’ “erratic and unstable behavior” in the last year. In August, Postmus was arrested on drug charges for a third time, this time during a court appearance.
Levine said Postmus, who entered drug treatment rehabilitation after that arrest, has been clean and sober since then.
Richard Grenell, a spokesman for Colonies, criticized the deal in a statement.
“It is sad that drugs and pressure from multiple cases have pushed Bill Postmus to sink to a level where he says things that are untrue, inconsistent with every statement he has made in the past and inconsistent with what everyone else involved in the settlement has said,” he said. “Jeff Burum did not participate in any conspiracy and did not pay any bribe.”
Biane said he is not concerned about being charged.
“I know that I did everything by the book while holding elective office,” he said. “The Colonies settlement was still the right settlement for the county’s taxpayers.”
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