By Joe Nelson Staff Writer
Created: 03/31/2011 09:44:53 PM PDT

A defense attorney said Thursday that San Bernardino County prosecutors may be seeking to dismiss criminal charges against former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin in a corruption probe and pushing for a Grand Jury indictment instead.

Investigators from the District Attorney’s Office on Thursday served subpoenas to county supervisors Josie Gonzales, Neil Derry, Gary Ovitt and Brad Mitzelfelt, requesting that they appear before a criminal Grand Jury this month to testify. Steve Hauer, Derry’s deputy chief of staff, also received a subpoena.

On Tuesday, prosecutors sent letters to at least four uncharged

co-conspirators in the probe requesting that they present any evidence they feel will help them in their defense by April 21, officials said.

Prosecutors allege the county’s $102 million legal settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006 was tainted by a web of conspiracy, bribery and extortion.

Rajan Maline, Erwin’s attorney, said Thursday that Erwin, Colonies co-managing partner Jeff Burum, and Mark Kirk, Ovitt’s former chief of staff, received the letters from prosecutors this week.

Former Supervisor Paul Biane said Thursday that he also received the letter Tuesday.

“By them convening the Grand Jury, it appears they may be trying to go by way of indictment so they won’t have to have a preliminary hearing,” Maline said Thursday.

In a preliminary hearing, prosecutors present evidence by way of testimony stating the facts of the case, and a judge determines if enough evidence has been presented to warrant a trial.

Erwin, who faces multiple felony counts including conspiracy to commit a crime, bribery, forgery and perjury, is scheduled to appear in San Bernardino Superior Court on April 25 for a preliminary hearing. His co-defendant, former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus, pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal charges related to the case as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Postmus has agreed to testify against defendants at future trials and cooperate with investigators in exchange for reduced charges.

Susan Mickey, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment Thursday.

Ric Grenell, a spokesman for Burum, also declined to comment.

Prosecutors believe the defendants and uncharged co-conspirators orchestrated a settlement on Colonies’ behalf in exchange for political favors and cash bribes in excess of $400,000, which were funneled into political-action committees operated by the three supervisors who voted in favor of the settlement – Biane, Ovitt and Postmus – or their staff members.

Colonies officials have denied all allegations, and maintain the settlement was fair and validated by two Superior Court judges and a retired state Supreme Court justice who served as a mediator during settlement hearings in 2006.

To read entire story, click here.