DA lands indictments in one of state’s ‘biggest corruption cases’

SAN BERNARDINO – Investigators arrested a former county supervisor at the Ontario Airport on Tuesday in the continuing Colonies Partners corruption scandal.

Four county officials were indicted on Monday by a grand jury in a case presented by San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos. Ramos has joined forces with both the state Attorney General’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office to land indictments in the deepening political scandal.

“When public officials act corruptly, every Californian is their victim,” said California Attorney General Kamala Harris in a release. “Let the San Bernardino (County) indictments send a strong message that we will never tolerate this sort of abuse of the public trust.”

Tuesday’s arrest was a result of a $2 million warrant issued for ex-Supervisor Paul Biane, whom Ramos referred to as a fugitive. Biane, however, surrendered himself at the airport late Tuesday afternoon.

Mark Kirk and Jeff Burum surrendered to investigators on Tuesday morning. They face indictments on 29 counts of bribery, conspiracy and embezzlement charges.

At a Tuesday morning news conference, Ramos said that Jim Erwin, a former assistant assessor who was facing conspiracy and bribery charges, was also indicted by the grand jury.

Tuesday’s announcement comes more than a year after prosecutors alleged that a $102 million settlement between the county and Colonies in 2006 was the result of bribes and extortion.

The county sued the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) to recoup some of the costs of the $102 million settlement, which arose from damage caused by the construction of Highway 210 in Upland.

Part of the case revolves around easements the county Flood Control District thought it had for a drainage basin on Colonies’ land in the Upland area, considered a costly miscalculation.

County officials said last month they had spent $21 million suing SANBAG and Upland. Also, the costs from a lawsuit regarding a controversial flood district settlement in Upland has approached $30 million.

“These individuals have violated a trust of San Bernardino County taxpayers,” Ramos said of the four men indicted. “That $102 million we believe was stolen from the taxpayers. We will make sure there is a restitution order.”

Erwin and former County Assessor Bill Postmus were charged with multiple felonies stemming from that case. Postmus, meanwhile, has pled guilty to all but three charges and has agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Last week, county Supervisor Neil Derry was indicted for his role in accepting what amounts to thousands of dollars in bribes, an accusation that was corroborated by Postmus. Derry, who prosecutors say hid the source of donations, has denied allegations and plans to fight the charges.

Derry said last week he would not resign from his position, stating that he would “clear up” any mistakes.

“The work is not done, but we have uncovered a significant amount of evidence, including documents,” Ramos said. “There were 45 witnesses who (testified in front of the) grant jury.”

The corruption probe extends to Colonies co-managing member Dan Richards and media consultant Patrick O’Reilly.

County spokesman David Wert said that Kirk was placed on unpaid leave by the county’s chief administrative officer, Greg Devereaux.

John Vandevelde, who is Burum’s attorney, released a statement saying his client “has been smeared by innuendos for two years. Today’s indictment means Jeff will finally have his day in court where the truth will show there was never a bribe of anyone or illegal conduct of any kind.”

Ramos, meanwhile, disclosed that his office has now worked with two state attorneys general during the 2 ½ years the investigation has lasted.

“Jerry Brown has said this has been one of the biggest corruption cases he’s seen in the state of California,” Ramos said of the governor-turned-AG-turned-governor. “I can tell you that this is the biggest corruption case in San Bernardino.”

It’s also proving to be a rather complicated case, the DA acknowledged.

“Believe me, I wish it could’ve taken two months,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference, adding that his office has encountered cover-ups, “people not talking, campaign records, documents, bank records … and attorney-client rules that (took up) thousands of pages.

“We had to make sure of every detail before you charge somebody with these types of cases,” Ramos explained. “We’re talking about elected officials in some cases.”

Ramos would not identify who else might be snared in the ongoing probe.


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