2 former San Bernardino County officials accused of bribery

Former San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus and the county’s former assistant assessor were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of accepting bribes to push for a $102-million settlement between the county and a developer, state and county prosecutors said.

It was the second time that Postmus and James Erwin had been arrested in connection with a political corruption probe in the county that has uncovered evidence of bribery, extortion, theft, forgery and use of the assessor’s staff to do political work.

“I’ve never seen corruption like this before, where a Board of Supervisors is induced through the payment of $400,000 to various individuals to vote [to spend] $102 million of taxpayers’ money when they should have kept that money for the people of San Bernardino,” said state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, whose office is assisting the county district attorney’s office with the investigation.

According to a complaint filed Tuesday in San Bernardino County Superior Court, Colonies Partners filed suit in 2002 challenging the county’s easement rights over a flood control basin in Upland and seeking to recover $23.5 million that Colonies had spent on the property. Four years later, against the advice of county counsel and other attorneys, supervisors voted 3 to 2 to approve the settlement, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors contend that Postmus accepted $100,000 from the developer for his vote in support of the settlement. They say the money was funneled through two political action committees that he secretly controlled.

Postmus then transferred $50,000 from one of the committees into his campaign account, using some of the funds for personal meals and entertainment, prosecutors say.

According to the complaint, Colonies gave Erwin $100,000, which was deposited into a political action committee he allegedly controlled. When Postmus was running for assessor in 2006, prosecutors say, Erwin created political mailers depicting the supervisor as a drug addict and homosexual to blackmail him into accepting the bribe and voting for the settlement.

In addition to money, Erwin is accused of accepting gifts such as a private jet trip to New York, prostitutes and a watch for his intermediary role. He was earlier charged with perjury for allegedly failing to report those gifts after he was appointed assistant assessor in 2007. In September 2008, Erwin was named chief of staff for Supervisor Neil Derry, a position he no longer holds.

Postmus became assessor in January 2007 but resigned a year later after authorities said they had found methamphetamine in his home. The same drug was allegedly found in Postmus’ home when he was taken into custody Wednesday, said Susan Mickey, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

The attorneys for Postmus and Erwin accused prosecutors of “grandstanding” for arresting their clients and calling a news conference when both men have been appearing in court regularly on the previous corruption charges.

“There is no truth to these allegations,” said Rajan Maline, who represents Erwin. “We are going to be contesting them vigorously.”

Stephen Levine, who represents Postmus, said he expects that his client will also plead not guilty.

If convicted on all the new charges, Erwin faces up to 12 years in prison while Postmus faces up to eight. Both men are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.

Prosecutors are also investigating two more alleged bribes of $100,000 each and say more arrests are possible. They believe one of the bribes went to the chief of staff of Supervisor Gary Orvitt. In a statement Tuesday, Orvitt said his vote in support of the settlement with Colonies was based on an analysis of the facts. “No one at any time, including my chief of staff, attempted to influence my decision or had any influence over my decision,” Orvitt said.

Prosecutors said another bribe went to a political action committee that they contend was secretly controlled by another supervisor who voted for the settlement. Although they did not name the person, the third vote was cast by Paul Biane, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

County spokesman David Wert said the county is reviewing the new charges and remains committed to recovering any taxpayer money lost through corruption.