January 14, 2014

Defense steps up misconduct claims in San Bernardino County Colonies corruption case

A defense attorney representing a key figure in a case accusing former county officials of conspiracy and accepting bribes told a judge on Friday he will be filing five motions this month alleging government misconduct and challenging evidence in the Colonies corruption case.

Defense attorney Stephen Larson told Judge Michael A. Smith of his intentions during a status conference in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Larson’s allegations include elaborate charging schemes used by prosecutors to bypass the statute of limitations on bribery and criminal conspiracy.

The defendants were indicted in May 2011, but the alleged crimes occurred in 2006, and the statute of limitations for the charged crimes is three and four years.

In addition, Larson is alleging prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from a criminal grand jury in 2011 that diminished the credibility of two of the prosecution’s key witnesses, former county Supervisor Bill Postmus, who also formerly was the county assessor, and former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman.

Larson produced an email sent to Aleman from Postmus on Jan. 16, 2010, in which Postmus accused Aleman of lying during his testimony in the criminal trial of another former Assessor’s Office employee, Rex Gutierrez. Gutierrez is also a former Rancho Cucamonga councilman who was forced to resign from the City Council upon his conviction in October 2010 of grand theft, conspiracy and fraud.

Both Postmus and Aleman struck plea bargains with prosecutors in exchange for leniency, pleading guilty and no contest, respectively, to crimes stemming from the Assessor’s Office under the Postmus regime and the companion Colonies corruption case that sprang from the Assessor’s Office criminal investigation.

Larson is representing Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, who along with three former county officials has been charged in the Colonies corruption case, in which prosecutors allege a $102 million legal settlement between the county and Burum’s investor group, Colonies Partners LP, in November 2006 was tainted by bribery, blackmail and extortion.

Also charged in the case are former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor and labor union president Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt. They are each accused of taking $100,000 in bribes from Burum in exchange for securing the landmark legal settlement in Colonies’ favor.

All four defendants have denied any wrongdoing.

In August 2011, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville dismissed the bribery charges against Burum. McCarville determined that Burum could not be accused of both giving the bribe and aiding and abetting in the receipt of a bribe. On appeal by prosecutors, the state 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside concurred.

Prosecutors then petitioned the state Supreme Court, and it sided with prosecutors last month, determining that Burum and Erwin could be charged with the crimes, given the totality of the evidence and circumstances in the case.

San Bernardino County lead Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope said the Supreme Court’s decision sets a new precedent for political prosecutions.

“It does have an impact for the benefit of political prosecutions across the state. It clarifies an area of law that was in confusion,” Cope said after Friday’s court hearing. He declined to comment on Larson’s allegations, which prosecutors will respond to once the motions are filed.

Defense attorneys just want the case back in trial court, and have essentially capitulated after the Supreme
Court’s decision.

They are demanding a speedy trial, which by law must occur within 60 days of the defendants being arraigned on the amended complaint, which would tack back on the bribery charges should the appellate court grant Larson’s request to kick the case back to Superior Court.

Judge Michael A. Smith gave Larson until Jan. 27 to file his motions and scheduled another status conference for Jan. 30.

By Joe Nelson, The Sun / Posted: 01/10/14, 3:27 PM PST



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