Unsuccessful corruption case haunts district attorney in his bid to keep position

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Gail Fry

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After the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office lost a highly public criminal case brought against former county supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane, former chief of staff for former county supervisor Gary Ovitt, Mark Kirk, former assistant assessor Jim Erwin and developer Jeffrey Burum alleging bribery and perjury involving a civil court settlement, an opponent financially supported by one of the defendants is now providing fierce opposition to Ramos’ re-election campaign. 

Voters in San Bernardino County have been overwhelmed with campaign advertisements from a Political Action Committee entitled “Business Leaders for Fair and Ethical Government to Support Anderson & Oppose Ramose for D.A. 2018” claiming Ramos “wasted over $50 million of Taxpayer money on fake political prosecutions” with Ramos countering his challenger Jason Anderson is a “puppet” of the developer, Jeffrey Burum, now seeking damages from the county for wrongful prosecution. 

   According to court records obtained by The San Bernardino American News, Burum, his business Colonies Partners and his co-defendants are asking for a total “$250 million from taxpayers” through lawsuits filed against the County of San Bernardino (county) over their unsuccessful prosecution. 

   The dispute began in 2002 when Colonies Partners dismissed the county’s offer over constructing county flood control improvements on property Colonies Partners planned to develop in the City of Upland and Colonies Partners filed a lawsuit against the county for damages.    

   With the county facing great pressure to settle the lawsuit after some unfavorable rulings, on November 28, 2007, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved a $102 million settlement which was subsequently upheld by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge W. Robert Fawke. 

   Former San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus having taken the helm of the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office found his office in 2008 the subject of an investigation after it was alleged his office was being used for political purposes with some personnel receiving pay without providing honest services.   

   After the investigation, former county supervisor and then assessor Bill Postmus, assistant assessor Jim Erwin, assistant assessor Adam Aleman and intergovernmental affairs officer Rex Guitterez faced criminal charges and in early 2010 Postmus, Aleman and Erwin were arrested charged with conspiracy to illegally influence approval of the $102 million settlement. 

   Postmus and Aleman accepted plea bargains requiring them to be cooperative witnesses in providing testimony in front of the grand jury as well as the subsequent criminal trial.     

   By May 2011, a grand jury was impaneled and after hearing testimony and reviewing evidence, new charges were filed against Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk involving the $102 million settlement and by early 2017 and after numerous court hearings and appeals, two juries were impaneled to hear the criminal case.     

   After jury deliberations on August 28, 2017, Burum, Biane and Kirk were found not guilty and a month later it was announced Erwin’s jury was deadlocked.  The district attorney’s office dropped the charges against Erwin after determining there were problems with witness testimony. 

   By the end of 2017 and early 2018, the Colonies Partners, Burum, Biane, Kirk and Erwin brought new lawsuits against the County of San Bernardino totaling $250 million for their wrongful prosecution.     

   Now San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos faces a well-funded opponent, defense attorney Jason Anderson, determined to remove him from office and a primary election looming on June 5. 

   The San Bernardino American News reached out to both district attorney Michael Ramos and his opponent attorney Jason Anderson to obtain their views on the issues facing the criminal justice system in San Bernardino County. 

   In an interview with The San Bernardino American News Anderson explained he was formerly employed at the DA’s office from 1998 until 2014 where he observed a decline in how the office was managed and what he believed was becoming more about statistics and politics and not about the people when he left to pursue opportunities best for himself and his family. 

   Anderson explained his decision to run for district attorney was based on his belief that the office could head a “different direction” and after watching “the corruption case unravel as badly as it did.” 

   Anderson revealed his friendship with former defendant Mark Kirk and “felt bad for him” during the proceedings and trial, was glad Kirk “was vindicated” because he believed Kirk was innocent.  Anderson shared he has known Attorney Stephen Larson, who represented Burum in the prosecution, for a decade.     

   Anderson explained he had knowledge people in the business community were “going to be involved in the election against Mike Ramos regardless of who was running to try and prevent the incumbent from getting elected.” 

   “I wanted to run on a campaign from being an insider from the DA’s office running in terms of what I thought the important issues were,” Anderson voiced and “if they decided to help me then they were going to help me.” 

   As far as what he would change if he were district attorney, Anderson explained he would prefer cases “be evaluated on the simple standard of whether they can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, not (sic) to have numbers that can be used as statistics to promote a political platform.”     

   Anderson also explained he would like to see more transparency at the district attorney’s office as far as “resources spent on cases so that the public understands where their tax dollars go.” 

   Anderson opined that currently there were not a lot of resources being devoted to the bulk of cases that fill up the jails and as a result more serious cases are taking “a lot longer than they need to” citing a death penalty case he was aware of “going on for 14 years.”    

   Anderson shares he favors reform of the bail system where other factors besides money bail are considered by the court to determine whether to release a defendant prior to trial and believes pre-filing diversion is more appropriate in certain nonviolent or possession of drugs crimes. 

   As to officer involved shootings, Anderson revealed he wants to remove public skepticism by creating an independent officer involved shooting unit “so it is independent of law enforcement.”

   Regarding public corruption Anderson explained the public integrity unit should exist and function to ensure “municipalities within the county continue to operate for the people they represent.”  Anderson voiced his view that no matter who is involved the district attorney needs to enforce the law as “it erodes the trust of people” and creates a different standard. 

    Anderson opined the district attorney’s office is a governmental agency, needs to be above board and transparent to the public as the taxpayers are most directly affected by actions taken by the district attorney’s office as they live in the community where crimes are occurring and criminals are being prosecuted and “taxpayers are footing the bill.” 

   Anderson explained he feels “very strongly” about “restoring integrity and fairness in the process” at the district attorney’s office depending on his “very good track record of the last 21 years in the legal community” both as a prosecutor and as a private attorney to garner votes in his favor.      

   Anderson opined the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office, the most powerful law office in the county of San Bernardino and the largest department “needs to have a steady nonpolitical hand to administer what the mission of that office is in the correct way” and that is why he is running. 

   In an interview with The San Bernardino American News, Ramos explained he could not speak about the Colonies case because it’s still in litigation.

   Ramos explained he could say that the criminal case had to everything to do with evidence and was not political explaining the case went before a grand jury, the State Attorney General was a partner in the prosecution and the Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted in the investigation. 

   Ramos shared it was a “very tough decision” to prosecute the defendants and he truly believes “we did the right thing; I think we changed the political climate of corruption in San Bernardino County” to where the “big cloud of corruption over the county” was removed.   

   Ramos revealed the defendants had formerly been “contributors of mine” and that it doesn’t “make sense that it was for politics” to go after his contributors.    

   Ramos explained he couldn’t turn his head to things that were occurring even if it involved his contributors and he had made a commitment to the public while explaining he accepts “full responsibility for it” even though he didn’t do the investigation or legal analysis.    

   Ramos explained his opponent, Jason Anderson, is being funded by the former defendants who “want more millions from us” and “I think it’s wrong and I have full confidence we are going to be successful.”  Ramos alleged Anderson decided to run for district attorney after the jury verdicts.   

   “Jason is their puppet, I will say that and I have said it publicly,” Ramos voiced explaining that is why he is running against “because I can’t let those individuals buy justice, buy the DA’s office, they are raising close to a million dollars” and mailing out “hit pieces.”    

   As to issues involving the criminal justice system, Ramos spoke of the importance of rehabilitation “because that means less crime and less victims” and that his office is involved with the San Bernardino County Re-entry Collaborative Group Initiative. 

   Ramos revealed that three weeks ago he created a prevention and intervention unit for the purpose of helping to “prevent crime on the front end” and upon release from prison offering “intervention to help get these people back into the community.” 

   Ramos pointed to a program where his office visits elementary schools to emphasize education, refusing to use drugs and providing tops on “how to stay away from gangs” while getting parents involved claiming “we have touched thousands.” 

   Ramos acknowledged holding “gang members responsible for serious and violent crimes” while he also believes if a gang member has turned his life around, supports a sunset on gang affiliation explaining it will take legislation creating criteria to where a former gang member could be removed from the California Database.

   As to bail reform, Ramos explained while  “We need to keep the dangerous people in custody until their court hearings” we need to fix the system because “there is a two-tier system” depending on the ability to pay.    

   Ramos touted the district attorney’s office’s ability to create special courts to specifically address those facing criminal charges due to drug use, homelessness, mental health issues and courts to address Veterans issues, explaining “we totally support for those convicted of misdemeanors that really need a chance.”   

   Ramos pointed to a pre-trial diversion program called RISE where he claims to have helped 1,451 defendants in 2 ½ years with “less than 1 percent” reoffending.  As to juvenile defendants, Ramos explained “the juvenile process is key; it’s all about diversion and prevention” with “locking kids up is not the answer.”       

   Ramos cited reductions in arrests for driving under the influence, in serious and violent felonies as evidence “of the good job we are doing” while acknowledging a slight increase in drug crimes, which they are addressing. 

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