2 S.B. County Probes Shown in Full
After a months-long delay, San Bernardino County officials on Tuesday released the complete findings of two investigations that offered an unsparing, behind-the-scenes look at questionable deal-making in a county still recovering from a mid-1990s corruption scandal.
The reports focused on the county’s $31-million purchase of a private jail and the sale of surplus county land involving a county supervisor’s chief of staff. Both deals involved Brett Granlund, a former Assemblyman from Yucaipa and a county lobbyist in Sacramento and triggered separate criminal investigations by the district attorney’s office.
The board had refused to release the reports since they were submitted in late 2005, saying they involved personnel matters, but criticism mounted, even after it released a four-page summary of the findings in December.
According to the findings of the first inquiry, Granlund, a lobbyist for the county, convinced top county officials that buying a private jail in Adelanto for $31 million would solve a space crunch in county jails. At the time, he was working as a consultant for the jail’s then-owner, Terry Moreland and his companies but didn’t tell county officials that.
The second report concerns Granlund and Supervisor Dennis Hansberger’s top aide at the time, Jim Foster, brokering a transaction that involved surplus county land. The special counsel conducting both investigations, Los Angeles attorney Leonard Gumport, said in that report the deal might violate conflict-of-interest laws and both parties could be held liable in civil court.
“It confirms the public’s worst fears,” said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “Unless there is public outcry -- and I don’t think there has been -- this will continue.”
The district attorney’s office said Tuesday that its own investigation into the land deal was continuing, and it completed its probe into the jail transaction in April, concluding that Granlund’s behavior was questionable but that he had done nothing illegal.
Nearly every county official mentioned in the reports -- including two supervisors and County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer -- called them inaccurate and overreaching. Granlund declined to respond to the report’s conclusions.
“I have serious objections to the sensationalistic tone” in the reports, Board Chairman Bill Postmus, whose district includes Adelanto, said in a statement released Tuesday. He said Gumport made the jail purchase look far shadier than it could arguably have been. “Still, if one looks past Gumport’s hyperbole, loaded wording and in some cases unsupported statements, I believe it is clear that the public was in no way harmed” by the jail purchase.
The reaction is markedly different from last summer, when Uffer’s office received an anonymous tip about the surplus county land deal, which triggered both investigations. Uffer, who has made cleaning up the county’s image among his top priorities, first hired Gumport to scrutinize the county land transaction. At the time, Gumport, who represented the county in its civil suits against the earlier corruption scandal’s major players, was widely praised afterward as thorough and fair.
Gumport said Tuesday that he would not comment on the reports or criticisms of them.
As the land purchase investigation unfolded, long-held political rivalries among the county supervisors deepened, with Supervisor Paul Biane and Uffer calling for Foster to be fired and Hansberger defending his longtime aide.
At issue was whether Foster bought surplus county land near Redlands using Granlund as an intermediary, as the report states. Top county officials were barred from such purchases.
“Hey, I’ve got this parcel that the county owns,” Granlund said Foster told him, the report stated. “I think it can be bought for 15 to $20,000. I think it’s worth a lot more than that. Are you interested?”
According to county records, Foster asked a county property agent about the parcel in 2001, telling her to put it back up for auction after it drew no bids.
The same year, Granlund, his then-wife and another couple bought the property. The Granlunds then sold their portion to Foster and his wife, Linda. Other buyers had expressed interest in the land, the report says.
The findings of the investigation were submitted to supervisors in August, and Foster resigned the next month.
The board afterward expanded to all county employees its prohibition against bidding on surplus land without obtaining a waiver.
The second investigative report details the jail purchase procedure, which Gumport depicts as deeply flawed.
In 2004, the fast-growing county was scouring the desert for another place to house inmates.
The county’s top choices were in Adelanto: a 500-bed city jail and a private jail with 660 beds, which the county was leasing but was in need of repairs, the report states.
The private jail’s owner had hired Granlund’s lobbying firm to do consulting work, which the lobbyist never disclosed to the county in writing, as the firm’s contract required, the report says.
Granlund told Gumport, “I can’t say I never talked about the prison” when chatting with county officials, including Sheriff Gary Penrod and Uffer, the report stated.
The county decided to lease the jail without appraising it, the report says. It then exercised an option in the lease contract to purchase it, a decision Gumport said was rushed and ignored the jail’s mold problem. He also concluded that Granlund’s involvement in the transaction contributed to the county favoring the facility.
Uffer, in a 12-page response to the reports, defended the county’s lease arrangement and eventual purchase of the jail, saying both actions followed standard practice.
Uffer also said staffers researching the jail purchase and advising the board had no contact with Granlund -- and pointed out that the county’s jails are so crowded that the Sheriff’s Department has had to release some inmates.