As former San Bernardino County Supervisor and later Assessor Bill Postmus heads to state prison for his criminal actions taken in the settlement of a lawsuit with developer Colonies Partners, the County of San Bernardino faces a federal lawsuit filed by three of the defendants who faced criminal charges and were not found guilty and a related business.
According to court records obtained by San Bernardino American News, on Friday, November 30, 2018, former supervisor and later assessor Bill Postmus (Postmus) surrendered to the Court to start serving his three year prison sentence in accordance with his plea bargain.
On April 26, 2010, Postmus agreed to a plea agreement with prosecutors pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit a crime, receiving a bribe, conflict of interest and concealment of the embezzled public funds.
In a last ditch effort to avoid punishment, on July 12, 2018, Postmus filed a Motion to Withdraw his Plea. After several days of testimony with Postmus claiming members of the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office coerced him to agree to a plea bargain, on November 15, 2018, Judge Michael Smith sentenced Postmus to three years for his crimes specifying Postmus serve his time in state prison for the crimes of conspiracy and conflict of interest.
In an interview with San Bernardino American News, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Jody Miller explained Postmus was in custody at the West Valley Detention Center and will be transferred to a state prison.
The Colonies scandal was the fruit of a lawsuit brought by Colonies Partners (a developer) against San Bernardino County Flood Control and San Antonio Water Company (former owner of the land) regarding rights under easement documents, the construction of a flood control retention basin and the amount of flood water directed across the residential and commercial development known as “The Colonies” located along the 210 Freeway in the City of Upland.
The land just below Mount Baldy is known for its historical flooding, including the land now owned by the Colonies Partners, and over decades San Antonio Water Company granted flood control easements to the San Bernardino County Flood Control District.
Court records show on March 22, 2002, the Colonies Partners, L.P. filed its lawsuit against San Bernardino County Flood Control and San Antonio Water Company alleging its easements did not allow the county to direct 80 million gallons of water per hour of flood water to flow across their property planned for both residential and commercial development.
The Colonies lawsuit lingered from March 22, 2002 until its settlement in November 2006. Former San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Peter Norell (Norell) first assigned to hear the dispute had his rulings in favor of the Colonies Partners reducing the easement rights of San Bernardino County Flood Control reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeals in July 2005.
Former superior court Judge Christopher Warner (Warner) was then assigned to hear The Colonies lawsuit also issuing rulings in favor of the Colonies Partners.
It was later revealed in Grand jury testimony that complaints regarding Norell and Warner’s handling of the case were filed with the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Despite one law firm quitting over the settlement negotiations and another attorney representing the county, Dennis Wagner, objecting to the settlement, in November 2006, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved the $102 million settlement with the Colonies. The vote was Postmus, Biane and Ovitt in favor with supervisors Josie Gonzales and Dennis Hansberger dissenting.
Postmus later testified he and Biane were pressured to settle the Colonies Case or face exposure of embarrassing information that Postmus was a homo-sexual and a drug addict and Biane had financial troubles.
Additionally, campaign contributions totaling more than $450,000 began to flow starting on March 28, 2007 to various political action committees (PAC) related to Postmus, Biane and Ovitt.
Burum, principal of Colonies Partners, L.P. claimed they were just “mending fences” after a contentious legal battle in distributing the campaign contributions.
The Colonies scandal implicated numerous elected officials, current/former public employees and a developer in an alleged extortion scheme to pressure elected officials for a favorable vote in the settlement of the lawsuit filed by Colonies Partners, L.P. against San Bernardino County Flood Control, and San Antonio Water Company.
In the end Postmus as well as his former assistant assessor Adam Aleman, former supervisor Paul Biane (Biane), former chief of staff to supervisor Gary Ovitt Mark Kirk (Kirk), former sheriff deputy and later Sheriff Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) President James Erwin (Erwin) and Rancho Cucamonga-based developer Jeff Burum (Burum) all faced felony criminal charges.
Court records show on June 30, 2009, Aleman entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors pleading no contest to vandalism for destroying a county-owned computer, destroying a public record by falsifying meeting minutes, and presenting false claims. Aleman was sentenced to 6 months in jail on December 1, 2017.
By August of 2009, the California State Attorney General’s Office joined the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office in investigating and prosecuting the individuals implicated in the Colonies scandal describing it as the “Biggest Corruption Scandal in San Bernardino County History.”
In February 2010, Biane, Kirk, Erwin and Burum faced numerous felony criminal charges. After numerous legal challenges and appeals on January 9, 2017, the trial for Biane, Kirk, Burum and Erwin began with a separate jury for Erwin. After the prosecution presented their case, the Defendants chose not to put on a defense.
On Monday, August 28, 2017, Biane, Kirk, and Burum were found not guilty by a jury of their peers. After a hung jury, on Friday, September 22, 2017, the judge dismissed Erwin’s charges.
According to public records, as of December 19, 2017, San Bernardino County spent a total of $34,283,438 in legal fees and costs to numerous law firms to both defend it in the civil lawsuit brought by the Colonies Partners and to pursue its damages from San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), CalTrans and the City of Upland, litigation that was unsuccessful.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office in an October 20, 2017 letter claimed, “Unfortunately, we cannot answer your question because the District Attorney’s Office does not track expenses for individual investigations and prosecutions, and did not do so in the Colonies case.”
On March 1, 2018, The Colonies Partners, Jeffrey Burum, Mark Kirk and James Erwin filed a federal lawsuit against San Bernardino County, the State Attorney General and naming numerous people in their individual capacity seeking more than $400 million in damages.
On June 5, 2018 during the primary election, Attorney Jason Anderson, supported by the Colonies Partners and Burum, won the election for San Bernardino County District Attorney when he obtained over 50 percent of the vote defeating longtime San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos.
San Bernardino American News sought the opinions of high desert citizens, the area for which Postmus was the supervisor, to see what they thought of Postmus and the ongoing Colonies Scandal.
In an interview with Victorville Attorney James Terrell, Terrell opined, “The only one that should go to prison over this are the overzealous prosecutors who mishandled this entire case.”
“The way that they handled it, how they got their witnesses, they never put the case together properly, they never refuted, they never did anything right in this case, but make a buffoon of themselves,” Terrell explained adding, “And it is ironic that Postmus out of all people who became their star witness is the one going to prison.”
“And it is like everything else that the DA looks at and handles along with the county ends up being a farce,” Terrell shared.
“And you know my biggest fear in the world is that the new DA Anderson will not fire the eight people below him,” Terrell voiced declaring, “And if the eight people that were behind this are not gone by January 30, we need to do a recall.”
“Look who reviews the death cases, look at who has been putting people in prison, and look at the people reviewing the officer-involved shootings, let’s just take these three scandals,” Terrell suggested.
“One of the people that has been responsible for putting more African-Americans in prison than any cotton business in the South is Lead Gang Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem (sic) he was found to be the biggest racist, misogynist @&#hole that we have ever had in county history,” Terrell explained.
“That nigger deserved it,” Terrell recalled Selyem had posted on Facebook, Terrell questioned, “What nigger deserved it that is symbolic for all people of color.”
Terrell spoke of the killing of Nathanael Pickett by a San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputy. Terrell explained the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office falsely claimed deputy Woods suffered broken ribs.
“Officer Woods never had a broken rib and he never had a broken nose,” Terrell decried testifying, “They lie to the people, they lie to the taxpayers.”
Terrell explained out of 58 counties in the State of California San Bernardino County is either #1 or #2 for “having the highest percentage of inaccurate dirty unethical convictions.”
“And I think you consider all those things and then you realize Postmus is going to prison, really?” Terrell questioned explaining, “And guess what happens now because they weren’t truthful, now we’re going to have a malicious prosecution case like we’ve never had before.”
“I think that a very capable district attorney’s office run by professionals that wasn’t politically driven could have had a different result,” Terrell concluded.
Former Oak Hills Property Owners Association President Terry Kostak, who lived in the high desert when Postmus was in office and interacted with Postmus’ office when it came to development into the unincorporated area of Oak Hills.
“He was of course the #1 man on the supervisor’s board, and he was a local guy, we did see him on occasion and we had numerous run-ins with him because he was not representing our community,” Kostak recalled.
“That was definitely our issue with Bill Postmus was that when he wanted to help a friend of his he didn’t think twice to bend the rules of law to fit his needs for his friends because I understand if you were a friend of his, he would do anything for you as long as you return the favor.”
As to the Colonies Scandal, Kostak explained, “I never would have hesitated never have to assume that Bill and others were most likely guilty of what they were originally charged with because that’s just how it worked especially back then.”
“It wasn’t unusual to have you know people paid off or deals made you know the old money in the paper bag routine which numerous people used to swear happened that what with development, developers things like that,” Kostak explained concluding, “I believe that them getting off the hook at this point does not mean that they are innocent, it was the prosecution that fell through, I think they’re both guilty.”