From left, attorney Jennifer Keller, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and developer Jeff Burum applaud the jury for their service after Burum, Supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk were found not guilty of all charges in the Colonies corruption case verdict hearing at San Bernardino Superior Court on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Luna, The Sun/SCNG)

By The Editorial Board | |
September 29, 2017 at 11:00 am

Now that the long-running Colonies case has finally ended with all defendants acquitted, county taxpayers wouldn’t be wrong to wonder just what the heck actually happened.

The criminal case dates back eight years, but the legal dispute between Colonies Partners LP and San Bernardino County goes back 18 years, to the initial disagreement between the county and Colonies over how much the county should pay for improvements to a flood-control basin on the Colonies’ Upland property.

That disagreement touched off an acrimonious legal battle that ended in 2006, when the Board of Supervisors approved a controversial $102 million settlement with Colonies after a judge tentatively found the county was on the wrong side of the argument.

Three years later, the District Attorney’s Office officially announced it was investigating the settlement, and in 2010, prosecutors filed charges against former county Supervisor Bill Postmus and Jim Erwin, who had served as chief of staff to Postmus when Postmus was assessor but who also helped developer Jeff Burum lobby the supervisors for their approval of the settlement. In 2011, prosecutors indicted Burum, former Supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk, who had been chief of staff to supervisor Gary Ovitt.

Prosecutors argued that $400,000 in post-settlement campaign contributions to political action committees secretly controlled by Postmus, Erwin, Biane and Kirk were actually bribes. The defendants and their lawyers said that was nonsense; the contributions were perfectly legal.

Except Postmus, that is.

Already in hot water for scandalous behavior in the Assessor’s Office and facing drug charges, Postmus had agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the investigators, which presumably is what led them to charge Burum, Biane and Kirk in the first place.

If it sounds confusing and complicated, it’s because it was.

In fact, when it went to trial earlier this year, it took prosecutors eight months to present their case, and when they were done, angry jurors acquitted the defendants and blasted prosecutors for bringing the case in the first place.

Perhaps that’s because all of prosecutors’ “star” witnesses turned out to be somewhat less than stellar.


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