Brown Files Bribery Charges Against Public Officials in $102 Million Corruption Case

San Bernardino, Calif.-Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos today announced the filing of criminal charges against former Chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors William Postmus and James Erwin, former Chief of Staff to Supervisor Neil Derry, on “conspiracy, corruption and bribery” charges related to a $102 million land-development settlement paid by San Bernardino County.

The complaint alleges that Erwin took $100,000 for inducing the Board of Supervisors to pay $102 million of taxpayer’s money to Colonies, a development company, in a fraudulent settlement and that Postmus took a $100,000 bribe for his vote to approve it. If convicted of all charges, Erwin faces a maximum of twelve years in state prison, and Postmus faces a maximum of eight years in state prison.

“These individuals engaged in conspiracy, corruption and bribery that cost San Bernardino taxpayers more than $100 million,” Brown said. “This is one of the most appalling corruption cases ever seen in California, and we will aggressively pursue this conspiracy until all of the facts are exposed.”

In January 2007, Erwin was appointed Assistant Assessor of San Bernardino County, a job he held until he resigned in November that year. In September 2008, he was named Chief of Staff to San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry.

Postmus served as a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors from 2000 until January 2007, when he took office as San Bernardino County Assessor. He resigned in February 2009.

In 2002, Colonies filed a lawsuit against the County seeking to recover $23.5 million it had spent on flood-control improvements and challenging the County’s easement rights that it claimed deprived Colonies of the ability to develop its property.

On November 28, 2006, the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to approve a settlement of $102 million with the Colonies, an amount based on an unsubstantiated demand and against the advice of County Counsel and private attorneys.

The complaint alleges those votes were obtained as part of a broad conspiracy which involved extortion and bribery, culminating in acts of public corruption that cost San Bernardino taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The investigation uncovered four bribes totalling $400,000 paid by the Colonies to secure the settlement.

Colonies gave Erwin $100,000, which was deposited into the Committee for Effective Government PAC he controlled, for his role as an intermediary between Colonies and the supervisors to achieve the settlement. The complaint alleges that Erwin created political mailers depicting Postmus as a drug addict and homosexual in order to blackmail him into voting for the settlement. Erwin also created negative mailers against another supervisor prior to the vote.

In addition to the $100,000 bribe, Erwin accepted other gifts for his role as intermediary, including a private jet trip to New York, meals, lodging, entertainment, prostitutes and a watch. Erwin is facing charges of perjury in connection with failing to report those gifts after he became a county officer.

At the time of the vote to approve the settlement, Postmus was the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and led the effort to approve the settlement. The complaint alleges that he received $100,000 from Colonies, which he funneled into two Political Action Committees (PACs) that Postmus set up specifically to receive the money. Postmus controlled both PACs, the Inland Empire PAC and “Conservatives for a Republican Majority,” but attempted to conceal his connection to them.

Postmus then transferred $50,000 from the Inland Empire PAC into his campaign account and used some of the funds for personal meals and entertainment.

The Chief of Staff for Supervisor Ovitt secretly controlled the Alliance for Ethical Government PAC, which received $100,000 from Colonies. The Chief of Staff received payments for campaign consulting from the PAC.

Colonies also gave $100,000 to the San Bernardino County Young Republicans PAC that was secretly controlled by a member of the board of supervisors who voted in favor of the settlement, and whom Erwin had threatened with the exposure of damaging information. Funds from the PAC were used to pay the supervisor’s campaign expenses and fund his campaign account.

The investigation is ongoing and may lead to additional arrests.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos stated, “The assistance of the Attorney General’s Office has been, and will continue to be, invaluable in our investigation. I would like to thank Attorney General Brown for providing the excellent assistance of Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel who has been working directly with our team and Senior Assistant Attorney General Gary Schons for his advice and direction over the past months. It is critical that confidence in their government be restored to the residents of San Bernardino County. This is just one more step in achieving that goal.”

In the Attorney General’s complaint filed today, Erwin was charged with nine felony counts, including:

- Conspiracy to Commit a Crime (Penal Code Section 182)
– Two counts of Corrupt Influencing (Penal Code Section 85)
– Two counts of Offering a Bribe to a Supervisor (Penal Code Section 165)
– Two counts of Extortion to Obtain an Official Act (Penal Code Section 518)
– Misappropriation of Public Funds (Penal Code Section 424)
– Forgery (Penal Code Section 470)

Postmus was charged with five felony counts, including:

- Conspiracy to Commit a Crime (Penal Code Section 182)
– Accepting a Bribe (Penal Code Section 86)
– Supervisor Accepting a Bribe (Penal Code Section 165)
– Conflict of Interest (Government Code Section 1090)
– Misappropriation of Public Funds (Penal Code Section 424)

The complaint is attached.

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