By Gail Fry
A number of current and former office holders, their associates and other politically connected figures, including ones currently facing charges in San Bernardino County’s corruption scandal, siphoned off money from the now shuttered Adelanto Charter Academy, documents obtained by the Sentinel show.
The Adelanto Charter Academy was chartered by the Adelanto School District on August 19, 2009. A little over a year later, in November 2010, an audit cataloging significant shortcomings in the school’s operations was released, and on May 17, 2011, the Adelanto School District revoked the charter it had granted to the Adelanto Charter Academy (ACA). ACA immediately appealed the decision to the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, who upheld the Adelanto School District’s decision on August 1, 2011. ACA appealed the decision to the California Department of Education and continued to operate until notified on April 17, 2012, that “your administrative remedies are exhausted” and “any further appeal of revocation must be sought in a court of local jurisdiction.”
During the school’s operation, indicted and now convicted former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus, current Hesperia School District board member Anthony Riley, indicted former California Charter Academy founder Charles Steven Cox, Peggy Baker (Cox’s sister-in-law), San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s campaign fund, Mitzelfelt’s field representative Jessie Flores, indicted former assistant assessor Adam Aleman and indicted local businessman John “Dino” DeFazio all received money from the Adelanto Charter Academy or entities deriving money from the academy.
Additionally, Adelanto Charter Academy paid what appears to have been over-market rates for rent to the Boys and Girls Club of the Victor Valley.
In February 2009, Bill Postmus resigned as San Bernardino County Assessor under a cloud of drug use and allegations of misconduct, leaving him without a regular paycheck. He had been arrested for drug possession in January 2009 and was indicted on political corruption charges in February 2010.
On March 28, 2011, Postmus reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, entering guilty pleas to having a conflict of interest, conspiring to accept a bribe, and misappropriating public funds, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in providing information and testimony in a criminal investigation and prosecution relating to the county’s $102 million settlement with the Colonies Partners in 2006, which Postmus voted upon when he was a county supervisor prior to his moving into the assessor’s post.
Charles Steven Cox, founder of the now defunct California Charter Academy (CCA) is currently facing criminal charges for grand theft, embezzlement and tax evasion.
Cox’s criminal charges stem from his involvement in CCA where it is alleged $23 million was misappropriated according to an “Extraordinary Audit of the California Charter Academy” prepared by MGT of America dated April 14, 2005 and commissioned by the California Superintendent of Public Instruction.
While Postmus was chairman of the board of supervisors, the board approved $101,999 in funds to be distributed to CCA. Yet, according to CCA teachers, students at the charter academy had not been supplied with books with which to study.
According to the MGT audit, Postmus served on two of CCA’s boards from 1999 until 2001 and during that time accepted campaign contributions for his campaign for the board of supervisors in 2000, and later received money from Cox during his 2004 reelection campaign.
Inexplicably, Postmus has never faced any criminal charges as a result of his involvement in the California Charter Academy.
Dino DeFazio, owner of D & D Real Estate and other real estate businesses, is currently facing criminal charges for perjury for his testimony before the San Bernardino County Grand Jury. DeFazio is a friend of Postmus and a business partner with him in a real estate company called Tri-Land, Inc.
Jessie Flores, field representative for San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, received funds from the Adelanto Charter Academy as owner of Diamond Limousines and officer of Professional Charter Management, Inc. Flores has a restricted real estate license under D & D Real Estate, according to the California Department of Real Estate.
Adam Aleman, formerly assistant assessor, in a plea bargain pled guilty to vandalism, presenting altered/false public documents and false claims. Aleman destroyed Postmus’ computer hard drive when district attorney’s office investigators were seeking it during the investigation of Postmus’ administration of the assessor’s office.
Hesperia Unified School District Trustee Anthony Riley received money from the Adelanto Charter Academy.
All of these individuals are shown in supporting documentation as related to contracts with the Adelanto Charter Academy while it was operating under the aegis of the Adelanto School District.
THE BOYS & GIRLS CLUB OF VICTOR VALLEY
In January 2007, Postmus was installed as San Bernardino County Assessor while Mitzelfelt, who had formerly been Postmus’ chief of staff, was appointed as his replacement on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
In August 2007, Mitzelfelt allocated $650,000 of county elective budget funds to the Boys and Girls Club of the Victor Valley (BGVV) to purchase a 4,300 square foot building located at 17537 Montezuma in Adelanto from Arrowhead Properties, IV, LLC, of whom Mitchel E. Pullman is a member.
BGVV purchased the building in September of 2007 for a sales price of $625,000. The additional funds were used to remodel the kitchen for an alleged cost of $35,000, a source with a comprehensive knowledge of the charter school’s operations told the Sentinel. “They could not have spent that much on the kitchen,” the source said.
In May 2008, BGVV, a nonprofit corporation, borrowed $100,000 from The Mitchel E. Pullman Living Trust. The deed of trust shows the recorded document is to be mailed to Sentry Home Loan at 187 E. Wilbur Road #12, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360.
Sentry Home Loans is a company owned by Helene Harris, president of Boys and Girls Club of Victor Valley and ACA board member. In October 2008, Sentry Home Loans arranged for the $100,000 note to be sold to private parties.
In March 2008, Mitzelfelt ensured BGVV received $399,780 in grant money from the city of Victorville as part of then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention initiative.
On February 11, 2009, Mitzelfelt awarded $20,000 in gang suppression funds to BGVV and on May 22, 2012, Mitzelfelt allocated $15,000 to the Adelanto Boys & Girls Club.
According to reliable information, Greater High Desert Lawncare Services does all of the landscaping for Harris’ properties, including upkeep of the Adelanto Charter Academy campus. Greater High Desert Lawncare Services are shown on Flores’ 2009 and 2010 700 forms (statements of economic interests).
There is no record of Greater High Desert Lawncare Services either under fictitious business names at the San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office or at the California Secretary of State website.
On October 1, 2009, the Boys and Girls Club of the Victor Valley started receiving rental payments from ACA for the use of two 300 square foot classrooms and the 1,500 square foot kitchen in its building located at 17537 Montezuma in Adelanto.
THE ADELANTO CHARTER SCHOOL PIGGYBANK
On August 19, 2009, the Adelanto School District approved the charter of Adelanto Charter Academy. According to the previously referenced source, Cox prepared the articles of incorporation and was behind the scenes advising Postmus on the formation of ACA.
On October 1, 2009, the Boys and Girls Club started receiving rental payments from Adelanto Charter Academy in the amount of $2,000 for the month of November and December. In January 2010 the rent increased to $3,000, in February and March the rent increased to $3,200 and by April 2010 ACA was paying rent and utilities in the amount of $3,474, May rent and utilities were $3,354, June’s rent and utilities were $3,449, those for July were $3,454 and in August of 2010 rent and utilities for the school ran to $3,200. In September 2010 the rent was $4,429 and in October 2010 ACA paid $2,000 to BGVV. On November 16, ACA gave the Boys and Girls Club a donation of $100.
The rent and utility payments totaled $33,560 for 13 months for 1,500 square feet of space, averaging $2,582 a month and $.58 per square foot for space in the city of Adelanto, a depressed area. The Sentinel’s source said Jessie Flores initially represented that they would not have to pay rent to hold classes at BGVV.
Helene Harris, an Adelanto Charter Academy board member, and her husband Hendon Harris are founders of the Boys and Girls Club of the Victor Valley.
Additionally, ACA paid Diamond Limousines $275.00 for a Calico Run in October of 2009. Diamond Limousine is shown as a “suspended” corporation with David Calderone as agent for service of process.
Jessie Flores’ 700 forms filed in March 2008 and April 2009 show him owning the Greater High Desert Lawncare Services, Diamond Limousine and receiving income from D & D. Jessie Flores’ 700 forms filed in April 2010 show him owning Diamond Limousines and receiving income from D & D, owned by Dino DeFazio.
Jessie Flores 700 forms for 2011 and 2012 indicate only his salary for his position as field representative for San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.
The Adelanto Charter Academy paid $35,000 during 2010 in loan payments to Kardi Homes, a limited liability company owned by Dino DeFazio.
Peggy Baker, Charles Steven Cox’s sister-in-law, received $4,000 on November 23, 2010, for teacher training from ACA. Baker was named in the MGT of America extraordinary audit of the California Charter Academy as related to Charles Steven Cox.
According to records obtained by the Sentinel, the Adelanto Charter Academy contracted with Professional Charter Management, Inc. to perform administrative services in return for 15 percent of all ACA revenues.
According to the California Secretary of State, Professional Charter Management, Inc. is a dissolved corporation with Jessie Flores as its chief executive officer and Dino DeFazio in the capacities of chief financial officer and secretary and Kari Murdock as agent for service of process. An individual who wishes to remain anonymous informed the Sentinel Murdock is the niece of Charles Steven Cox.
On December 14, 2010, Jessie Flores filed a certificate of dissolution stating, “The corporation has not conducted any business from the time of the filing of the articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State” and “The corporation acquired no known assets.” Jessie Flores signed the form under penalty of perjury.
An email from C. Steven Cox addressed to Postmus, DeFazio and Jessie Flores, with the subject “Invoice from Professional Charter Management, Inc.” dated January 19, 2010, contained an attached invoice for “administrative service fees” for $11,965.65.
An email obtained by the Sentinel states, “hi my name is Bill Postmus, Jr, partner with Professional Mgmt Inc.” and “I’m attempting to make sure we are up to date with everything payment wise.” Another email from Postmus states, “Its so sad to see you act in such a way. I have NO $$$ left to my name and this will help get me through another week and you’re being an obstructionist.”
Records provided by ACA show Professional Charter Management, Inc. was paid $11,965.65 on January 21, 2010, a month and a week after it was dissolved.
According to records obtained by the Sentinel, the Adelanto Charter Academy contracted with Educational Development, Inc. to perform administrative services in return for 5 percent of all ACA revenues from September 1, 2009 until June 30, 2014.
According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, Educational Development, Inc. is not in good standing and dissolved in April 2008. The articles of incorporation indicated DeFazio and Aleman as directors.
Another email from C. Steven Cox addressed to Postmus, DeFazio and Jessie Flores with the subject “Invoice from Educational Development, Inc.” dated January 19, 2010 contained an attached invoice for “development fees” for $3,988.55.
Records obtained by the Sentinel from the Adelanto Charter Academy show ACA paid Educational Development, Inc., $2,624 on November 5, 2010 and $3,000 on December 6, 2010.
The Sentinel’s source said Educational Development, Inc. and Professional Charter Management, Inc. “didn’t do anything for the money.”
Other emails reveal the involvement of William T. Flores, Vice President of the ACA board, who according to the source is Jessie Flores’ nephew, as well as that of Russell Blewett, who is now the mayor of Hesperia. In an email addressed to William Flores, Helene Harris, Dino DeFazio and Jen Ruiz dated October 28, 2010, right before Blewett’s successful election, Blewett resigned from ACA board of directors where he had been president.
Anthony Riley, a Hesperia Unified School District trustee, was paid $6,500 on January 15, 2010, ostensibly to put ACA in touch with Ron Griffith, director of preschool services for the county and to assure that 20 to 30 kindergartner students would be enrolled at the academy. “He didn’t do anything for the money” according to the Sentinel’s source.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt received $10,900 in contributions for his campaign for San Bernardino County Supervisor from Hendon Harris and related entities from March 2008 until December 2011.
In Mitzelfelt’s bid for United States Congress in the 2012 campaign season, Hendon and Helene Harris have provided his campaign with $20,000 in contributions.