Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, answers questions regarding the Colonies corruption case during an interview at his office in Rancho Cucamonga, Ca., Thursday, September 28, 2017. Burum is one of the three defendants in the San Bernardino County-Colonies corruption case that were recently found not guilty of all charges, after a prolonged trial that lasted nearly eight months. (Photo by John Valenzuela/The Sun/SCNG)

By Richard K. De Atley | rdeatley@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: January 30, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Updated: January 30, 2018 at 5:36 pm

Developer Jeffrey Burum, who was acquitted of all charges in the Colonies corruption case last year, filed on Tuesday a malicious prosecution and civil rights violation claim against San Bernardino County and the State of California, with his attorney saying the failed prosecution turned his client’s life “into a living hell.”

The claim by the Rancho Cucamonga developer, a co-managing partner of Colonies Partners LP, does not name an amount but claims Burum had lost “tens of millions of dollars” in failed development deals and also lost salary from dismissals on various boards of directors because of damage to his reputation.

The alleged damages extend over a period of about 20 years, the claim states, from civil actions and a land seizure at a development site in the late 1990s through the conclusion of the 10-month criminal trial last year. Burum seeks punitive damages as well as actual losses.

The claim names an array of county and state officials, investigators and prosecutors and includes San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Kamala Harris, the latter two in their former roles as state attorneys general. The case was jointly prosecuted by the county and state.

The 13 people named by the claim engaged in “wrongful and illegal conduct” that resulted in injuries to Burum, from malicious prosecution, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and federal civil rights claims including false arrest, retaliation, and fabrication of evidence, the document alleges.

Prosecutors said former county Supervisor Paul Biane, Mark Kirk, the former chief of staff for former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt, and former defendant Bill Postmus each took $100,000 bribes, which were reported as campaign contributions, from Burum to gain approval for the $102 million court settlement over flood control work at Colonies Partners’ 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland.

The settlement was approved by the Board of Supervisors in November 2006 by a 3-2 vote. The vote was made after the county was crushed in a judge’s preliminary ruling in the latest round of six years of litigation over the matter, with Colonies stating it could collect as much as $300 million in damages.

The contributions were made months after the vote and details about them, including the money’s source, could be reviewed by anyone online, defense attorneys pointed out.

Biane, Kirk and Burum were acquitted by jurors on Aug. 28 of last year. A fourth defendant, former county Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, was tried with a separate jury. His case was dismissed Sept. 22 after the panel deadlocked on all charges against him, including that he took part in the bribery of two county officials in the 2006 settlement.

Burum attorney Stephen G. Larson said in a statement Tuesday those named in the claim conducted “a 20-year campaign to persecute Burum” by “waging an unlawful war of intimidation, retaliation, harassment, and civil rights violations against him. Mr. Burum’s ultimate vindication came at a cost of years of his life, tens of millions of dollars, and irreparable damage to his reputation, his career, and his family.”

Two of those were key witnesses in the trial, San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales and former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman.

Gonzales “falsely claimed that Mr. Burum menaced her in China” — during an official county visit — “prior to the settlement, to the point that she feared he was going to kidnap, drug, and take compromising photographs of her. This was fantasy: The two were never in China at the same time, a fact known by prosecutors who nevertheless elicited this false testimony before the grand jury and during Mr. Burum’s trial,” the claim said.

“The county carefully considers all claims and acts in the best interest of everyone involved,” county spokesman David Wert said in an email Tuesday. Wert said the statement also stood for Gonzales, “since the county would handle any claims against her in this matter.”

Gonzales declined to comment Tuesday.

Aleman made a plea deal to testify against Burum and other defendants during the 8-month trial.

Aleman testified during the trial about meetings with Burum and former county Supervisor Bill Postmus at the Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga, in which he alleged the bribery deals were worked out.

“The meetings were entirely imaginary,” the claim states. “Mr. Aleman even placed some of these meetings at the Red Hill Country Club’s clubhouse at a time that it did not exist, another fact that was readily discoverable had investigators bothered to engage in objective investigation.”

Aleman, 35, surrendered at the West Valley Detention Center, in Rancho Cucamonga, on Jan. 24 to begin serving a 6-month jail term as part of his plea deal agreement. Reached by telephone Tuesday, Aleman’s attorney, Grover Porter, declined to comment.

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