By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the May 5 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez and Mark Gutglueck
Just a few days shy of four months into the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case, the prosecution brought its star witness before the two juries hearing the case, at last providing the 24 jurors and five remaining alternates with the first and most compelling testimony pertaining to the alleged bribery which lies at the heart of the case.
For seventeen weeks, the prosecution had sluggishly and tentatively motored along in first and occasionally second gear, as much of the testimony had taken on the aspect of a rehashing of the civil case that was ongoing from 2002 until 2006 between the Colonies Partners and the county over flood control issues at the Colonies Partners’ Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads residential and commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. This week, however, San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope departed from his normally somnolent presentation of the evidence provided by means of a plodding direct examination and shifted at just under light speed through first, second, third and fourth gears up into overdrive, taking laser focus on the delivery of $100,000 to one-time San Bernardino County political colossus Bill Postmus in the form of electioneering contributions which prosecutors allege were a veiled bribe made in exchange for conferring $102 million on the Colonies Partners to settle that lawsuit.
Upon calling Bill Postmus to the witness stand, Cope barely wasted time to establish from him that he had been elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2000 and had been reelected in 2004, at which point he was elevated to board chairman. Cope then introduced the topic of Postmus participation in a trade mission to China in September 2005 during the course of which he had met with Jeff Burum, one of the two managing principals of the Colonies Partners. Cope said he wanted to focus “on the period of time after you took that trip to China. You were still a board of supervisors’ member?” Cope asked.
“Correct,” said Postmus.
Cope asked Postmus if he knew Burum prior to the China trip.
Postmus said the two had “met a few times at fundraisers” but said they had not been well acquainted. It was during that trip to China, Postmus testified, that the two men got to know one another.
Did you have any conversation with Mr. Burum about the settlement of the Colonies lawsuit?” Cope asked.
“Yes,” said Postmus.
“Tell me what he told you he would do for you if you were to get this case settled,” Cope probed.
A few months after he returned from China, indicating a time frame in the “beginning of 2006,” Postmus said, “Mr. Burum and I had multiple conversations. He said if I were to get this settlement finished he would support me for higher office if I choose to run and if I decided not to run, he would assist me in going to the private sector, or business ventures that I might be involved in.”
“Did you talk to him about being on the board for a business he ran?” Cope asked.
Postmus said he had, indicating the subject at hand involved “one of the nonprofit organizations that Mr. Burum was involved in. There was some discussions that it might be possible for me to serve on that board also,” Postmus said, “if the settlement was accomplished.”
Cope asked how the conversation had come about. Postmus said he had declared his candidacy for county assessor and learned when he approached Burum for a contribution that “The Colonies [Partners] was not giving contributions” because, he said, of the company being embroiled in the lawsuit with the county.
Cope asked Postmus what form the support for higher office would entail. “I was under the impression it would have been financial support,” Postmus said. To Cope’s inquiry as to how Burum recognized that Postmus had aspirations for higher political office, Postmus said, “I believe there was speculation I would run for some other type of office.”
“Did you talk to him about the possibility of running for Congress?” Cope asked.
“I am sure we had that conversation,” Postmus said. “There was a lot of speculation I would someday run for that office.”
Moving at an accelerated pace to cover the key elements of the case, almost as if he were questioning a mob informant whose day-to-day survival is in question, Cope jumped ahead to the actual settlement.
“So, you do recall being engaged in the settlement of this case in November 2006, correct?”
“Yes, “ Postmus said.
“Did you believe at the time that you signed the settlement agreement… it was appropriate?” Cope asked. Postmus said he did not.
“In terms of the dollar amount, the $102 million was too high,” he said. He said an earlier settlement he had been instrumental in working out with his board colleague Paul Biane for some $24.5 million less was more acceptable. “The $77.5 million we came up with the year before was more comparable,” he said. “I did not agree with the $102 million.”
“Even though you didn’t agree with it, you signed it anyway?” said Cope.
“I signed because the majority of the board decided to settle,” said Postmus. “We voted on it.” We ended up getting it done and I signed it to move it on.”
Cope pressed forward, asking, “Were there any other reasons why you entered into that settlement agreement?”
Postmus responded, “In 2006, we had two settlement conferences early in the year. Then, in the latter part of 2006, Mr. [Jim] Erwin, who was working with the Colonies [Partners] at that time, had started to put pressure on myself and Mr. Biane to get the settlement concluded.”
Postmus said there was a rush to bring closure to the lawsuit at that point because in the June 2006 primary, he had proven the top vote-getter in the race for county assessor, outdistancing the incumbent, Don Williamson, though he did not get a majority of the vote, that is, at least one vote more than fifty percent, to win the race outright. He was thus locked in a run-off against Williamson. “Due to the fact that earlier in that year, in June, I had won [i.e. finished in first place], everyone speculated I would leave the board in January 2007,” Postmus said. “So, Mr. Erwin put pressure on me, basically stating if I did not get the settlement concluded by the time I left office that Mr. Burum would be exposing my homosexuality and drug use at the time. He went on to talk about Mr. Biane and the financial issues he was having.”
“So those were the things that Mr. Erwin said that he would do,” Cope said. “Is that the reason you signed the settlement?”
“Yes,” said Postmus.
“Did the fact that Mr. Burum said he would support you in future [runs for] office, was that another reason why you signed the settlement?” Cope asked.
“Yes,” said Postmus.
“So you did sign the settlement and at some later time did you receive some money from the Colonies Partners?” asked Cope.
Postmus said he had received a “campaign contribution of $100,000 that was split two ways. It went into two separate political action committees, PACs.”
“Did you have control over those PACs?” Cope asked.
One of those, Postmus said he had “100 percent control” over and that he had control over whatever money he brought in to the other political action commitee, which had been set up by his political and business associate Dino DeFazio, and he thus had unimpeded access to the money provided to him by the Colonies Partners.
“Some of the money you controlled went into your campaign fund?” Cope asked, alluding to the consideration that Postmus would be able to spend the money in his own political war chest at will.
“I would give myself campaign contributions,” Postmus said.
Cope utilized the remainder of his direct examination of Postmus on Monday to go over his legal travails, initial contacts with investigators and the nature of the plea arrangement he entered into with prosecutors in 2011. Subsequently, this week, after Cope concluded his direct examination on late Wednesday, attorney Jennifer Keller, one of the members of the defense team for Burum took up her cross examination of Postmus, and she returned to the subject of the plea arrangements and Postmus’ interaction with investigators from the district attorney’s office.
Postmus was himself at one time a criminal defendant in a case that grew out of the same set of facts, overt acts and theory of criminality that infuses the case now being prosecuted.
In the ongoing case, prosecutors allege Jeff Burum, a Rancho Cucamonga-based developer, coordinated with one-time sheriff’s deputies union president Jim Erwin to first extort, through the use of blackmail, intimidation and threats, former supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane to obtain a vote conferring a $102 million payout on the Colonies Partners to settle the lawsuit that company had brought against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies Partners’ residential and commercial subdivisions in northeastern Upland. Burum and Dan Richards were the two managing principals in the Colonies Partners, who over the course of the seven months after the lawsuit was settled provided $100,000 donations to political action committees controlled by Postmus, then-supervisor Paul Biane, Erwin and Mark Kirk. Kirk was the chief-of-staff to then-supervisor Gary Ovitt, whose vote to settle the lawsuit was critical in the 3-to-2 decision to approve the settlement.
Postmus, who served as county assessor after he left the board of supervisors in January 2007, was criminally charged in February 2010 along with Erwin in a case predating but related to the allegations contained in the May 2011 indictment which is at trial now. Though Postmus initially maintained his innocence, he subsequently pleaded guilty to 14 separate felony political corruption-related charges, including conspiracy, bribery, conflicts of interests, and perjury. He turned state’s evidence and testified before the grand jury that indicted Erwin on charges superseding those leveled at him in 2010 and which also named Burum, Biane and Kirk. The indictment alleges the political action committee donations were thinly-veiled bribes made to Postmus, Biane and Kirk, the latter of whom prosecutors allege influenced Ovitt and delivered his vote in favor of the settlement.
Postmus was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of grand theft, four counts of embezzlement by a public official, one count of perjury and three counts of possession of a controlled substance growing out of his malfeasance in office while he was assessor. With regard to his involvement in the Colonies lawsuit settlement, he was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a crime, five counts of soliciting a bribe as a public official, five counts of bribery by an elected legislator, one count of bribery by a public official, one count of conflict of interest as defined by the government code, and two counts of embezzlement by a public officer.
On March 28, 2011, he entered into a plea arrangement with the district attorney’s office that was accepted by the court in which he was convicted, with regard to the assessor’s office malfeasance of one count of conspiracy, one count of perjury, two counts of grand theft, four counts of embezzlement by a public official and two counts of drug possession; and with regard to the Colonies lawsuit settlement matter of one count of conspiracy, one count of receiving a bribe, one count of bribery by a public official and one count of engaging in a conflict of interest under the government code.
His plea arrangement specified that he would agree to cooperate in further investigations carried out by the district attorney’s office with regard to other individuals involved in suspected or alleged criminal activity. Under direct examination by Cope on Monday, Postmus testified that he had, prior to the entering of his pleas and with the advisement of his lawyers, entered freely into discussions with the district attorney’s office’s investigators and that in doing so no promises or deals involving leniency or future sentence reductions were made.
Cope showed both juries hearing the case the plea arrangement documents filed with the court. The agreement provides for all the charges except conspiracy to commit a crime, conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds being vacated in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors and his truthful testimony at trial, whether that testimony favors the prosecution or benefits the defense. The judge hearing the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case against Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk is Michael A. Smith, who also oversaw the cases against Postmus. Thus, it will be Smith who will ascertain ultimately whether Postmus lived up to his commitment in the plea arrangement, though the prosecution will be able to make a sentencing recommendation. Smith will determine the length of Postmus’ sentence, which according to an indication by Cope on Monday, could range to up to five years in prison.
On Tuesday, Postmus again underwent direct examination by Cope, who elicited further statements from him in support of the prosecution’s narrative of guilt, at least with regard to Burum and Erwin.
During the entirety of 2006, the county and the Colonies Partners engaged in four separate mediation sessions brokered by former California Supreme Court Justice Edward Panelli. Two of those occurred prior to a trial on the matter in the court of Superior Court Judge Christopher Warner and two afterwards. In those mediation sessions, Panelli would shuttle between the two parties, seeking to shape a compromise that all of the participants could adopt. Postmus testified, as was hinted at by previous witnesses, that he used his Blackberry communications device to send messages to Burum during the first of those two meetings, thus arming the Colonies Partners negotiating team with information that would give it a heads up and the advantage of being able to formulate and calculate its responses to Panelli slightly ahead of time. When Burum cut off contact with county officials sometime after the Warner trial, Postmus continued to convey that inside information to the Colonies Partners during the mediation sessions, doing so indirectly by communicating with Erwin, who was assisting the Colonies Partners in attempting to achieve a settlement on its terms. Postmus also said that while he was in attendance at closed sessions of the board of supervisors, during which information relating to pressing county issues deemed to be confidential such as pending legal action was discussed, he sent text messages to Burum disclosing the substance of those discussions. Postmus said that in those texts he conveyed to Burum “strategies… [and] where the board was in terms of financial numbers” along with recommendations being made by the county’s attorneys in confidence to the board. Occasionally, Postmus said, he informed Burum about the opposition to settlement being expressed by then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger, who was steadfastly opposed to settling the case on the terms the Colonies Partners were seeking. He said in his furtive communications with Burum he would be “venting my frustration on Dennis, because he was always badmouthing the Colonies, etcetera.” Postmus said he conveyed to Burum and later Erwin “what the parameters were to the [proposed] settlement [being discussed] and [if there would be] land included in it.”
Cope asked if “because of this communication, Mr. Burum already knew where the board was at?”
“Correct,” said Postmus. “A lot of times, yeah. I would be texting to him about where the board was in terms of dollar amounts, where the board members were in terms of support.”
Cope asked Postmus if he was making similar disclosures of confidential information to Erwin. Postmus indicated that he was “but not as frequently” during the first half of 2006. But that changed, he said. “At some time in the second half of 2006 I stopped communicating with Mr. Burum.”
“When?” Cope asked.
“It was, I believe, after the Warner trial,” Postmus said. “Mr. Erwin told me there was a lot of tension between the Colonies and the county. He told me Mr. Burum was not going to be communicating with me with regard to the settlement. Things were rocky at that time, very tense. He told me he [Erwin] would be communicating with me.”
Cope asked Postmus if Erwin said why Burum was going incommunicado with him.
“Tensions were extremely high,” Postmus said. “Jeff was extremely upset with us.”
“Were you okay with that?” Cope asked.
“I just went along with it,” Postmus said.
Postmus had been the darling of the Republican political establishment as a boy wonder who had become the youngest member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in county history, the youngest chairman of the county board ever, and he acceded to become the chairman of the county Republican Party just two years after being elected supervisor. While representing himself as a rock-ribbed conservative and espousing Christian and family values as part of his political formula, he embraced socially conservative causes throughout his tenure in office, while denouncing liberals and Democrats as obstructionists to the concept of facilitating the economic revitalization of the region. He was widely perceived as an ideal candidate for the state legislature and Congress, while two of his closest political allies, Victorville Councilman Bob Hunter and one-time Assemblyman Anthony Adams, openly predicted he would one day be California Governor, a U.S. Senator and possibly President of the United States. When George Bush flew into California and landed at Ontario Airport, Postmus welcomed him as he disembarked from Air Force One, enduring the Chief Executive’s good natured ribbing that Postmus was too young to be a county supervisor. When Bush gave his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, Postmus was seated prominently near the podium, on display to a National audience amongst Senators, Congressman, ambassadors and other GOP luminaries. On Tuesday, in response to Cope’s questions, he gave what seemed a frank admission to his drug use and descent into addiction while he was outwardly on display as Captain America.
He had eschewed intoxicants into his thirties, Postmus said. “There was a lot of alcoholism and addiction in my family,” he said. “My dad had a struggle with alcohol” when he was young. As a consequence, he said, “My parents chose not to drink in our house.” He thus had led a life of total sobriety, until after he was an elected official. He said his use of drugs “began recreationally as early as 2003, while I was a member of the board. It got progressively worse over time. Up until that point, I had never picked up any substance. I believe it was 2002-2003,” when, he said, “for some bonehead reason – I don’t know why – I smoked some methamphetamines and from there it went to once or twice a month and then once a week and it just spiraled from there.”
He said he occasionally used the drugs ecstasy, GHB, marijuana and alcohol, as well as cocaine and “poppers,” i.e., amyl nitrate, but had a preference for methamphetamine. “By far, that was my drug of choice,” he said. During the increasingly intense back and forth between the county and the Colonies Partners during 2004 to 2006, Postmus said, he was sinking further into the morass of drug dependence. It was not until after he left the board, he said, and had moved on to become assessor that his addiction became “full blown.” By that point, he said, he had taken to using inhalants.
He said those within his circle had some inkling of his drug use, which very near broke out into the open in the summer of 2006, when he had been whisked away to a drug rehabilitation center in Yakima, Washington. His absence was conspicuous, as he was both the chairman of the board of supervisors and an active candidate for assessor. There was a devastating fire that took more than a week to bring under control in the Morongo Basin, and he was not in place to deal with that issue. He said Erwin “helped me get to Washington.” Bob Smith, a former sheriff’s deputy who was then one of his field representatives knew about his drug use at that time and so did his family, he said. He said one of his board colleagues, Josie Gonzales, also suspected or knew of his addiction. “She said she was praying for me,” he said.
As for his sexual orientation, Postmus said, “Adam Aleman knew I was gay.” Aleman was one of Postmus’ friends, whom he hired as one of his field representatives and later appointed to the position of assistant assessor. “I had multiple conversations with him,” Postmus said. “Mr. Erwin knew I was gay. We talked about it. Bob Smith never talked about me being gay, but he knew it.”
Nevertheless, his drug use and his homosexuality remained under wraps, he said, for the most part.
That secret rendered him vulnerable, he testified. As the efforts to achieve a settlement in the Colonies matter failed, he said, Erwin, who was militating on behalf of Burum and the Colonies Partners, began to exploit those secrets to bring the settlement about. Postmus said he had first become acquainted with Erwin in either 1999 or 2000, after he had embarked on his effort to unseat Kathy Davis as First District supervisor. Erwin was then the president of the sheriff’s deputies union, the Safety Employees Benefit Association, which was at that point in a bitter negotiating effort with the board of supervisors over pay and benefit increases. Erwin invited him to an interview before the association’s board, Postmus said, which conferred upon him its endorsement over Davis and then made two $20,000 donations to his election effort. Those endorsements and donations were key to his victory Postmus said. He had struck up a friendship with Erwin as a result, Postmus testified, which he said devolved into a “love-hate” relationship. Erwin, Postmus said, had slyly suggested shortly after Postmus was in office that deputies active in the union who were upset about the county not giving them an enhanced retirement package knew of Postmus’ sexual orientation. In time, the county granted the deputies, with Postmus’ support, the benefit increase they had sought. Postmus testified that in 2006 Erwin threatened Postmus with the prospect that he would expose his drug use and homosexuality as a means of inducing him to bring about the settlement with the Colonies Partners on the terms Burum was seeking.
“We had a very rocky relationship,” Postmus said. “Jim is Jim and Jim can be quite abrasive when he believes in something. He is a very strong personality, an ‘A’ type person.”
Postmus said that “after the Warner trial [which ended in June 2006] and sometime before the [third] Panelli settlement conference [in October 2006]” Erwin initiated the use of blackmail against him.
“Jim would start off subtly, saying at the time, ‘People out there know you’re gay. People know you’re using drugs,’” Postmus testified. “Over time, that turned into ‘If you don’t get this settled before you leave, we’re going to expose your homosexuality and expose your drug use.’”
“Did he explain to you how that was going to take place?” Cope asked.
Postmus said Erwin indicated he could take advantage of the consideration that Measure P, an initiative to raise the pay of the board of supervisors, was on the November 2006 ballot, and put out so-called political hit piece mailers that would expose his homosexuality and drug use and reveal that Biane was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. “It was in the context of putting out mailers attacking me on those two issues,” Postmus said.
“That is what Mr. Erwin told you?” Cope asked
“Yes,” said Postmus.
“How often did Mr. Erwin talk about this?” Cope asked.
“It didn’t become hot and heavy until just before the Justice Panelli conference in October,” Postmus said “That was when we began to clash on the settlement. Jim wanted to get the settlement done. He began making statements about exposing my sexuality and drug use. He was continually ranting and raving about Mr. Biane having financial issues.” A committee was being created and something like $400,000 was going into the effort to defeat Measure P, Postmus said, and that would be the means by which the focus on his and Biane’s personal problems would be made. “He told me a political consultant had put together campaign mailers, but I never saw the mailers,” said Postmus.
“This ramping up the pressure and the threat of exposing your sexuality as a gay person and the fact that you were using drugs, was that a threat you considered serious?” Cope asked.
“Absolutely,” said Postmus.
“Was that something that motivated you to make sure the settlement with the Colonies [Partners] was passed?” Cope asked.
Postmus said it was. “Being a closeted gay man and a Republican in a very conservative district is not the best situation to be in,” he said. “At the time, it was not something I wanted to face.”
“Did Mr. Erwin tell you during the period of time before the settlement that he was working at the instruction of Mr. Burum?” Cope asked.
“I don’t remember the exact phrase, but he said he was working for the Colonies [Partners],” Postmus said.
Postmus said that while the promise of financial support made to him by Burum was a motivating factor with regard to the settlement vote, it was secondary to his concern over keeping his reputation and electability intact.
“Did you feel that if this lawsuit wasn’t settled at the time it was, that Mr. Burum would not support you?” Cope asked.
“At the time, that was the least of my worries,” Postmus said. “I was worried about getting through my election without being exposed about my being gay and my drug addiction. I was not concerned about the discussion as far as support as I was about not getting exposed during the election cycle.”
Cope pressed Postmus with regard to his statement that he thought the $102 million settlement was excessive. Postmus reiterated that belief, saying he had once referred to the settlement as being “ridiculously high.”
Anticipating that the defense would make an issue of one of Postmus’ utterances during an October 14, 2011 interview with FBI agent John Zeitlin and then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Behnke, Cope brought it up before the defense had the opportunity to question Postmus about it. In response to one of Zeitlin’s questions, Postmus had said in October 2011 that there had been no quid pro quo in his arrangement with Burum vis-à-vis his vote to ratify the $102 million settlement and the $100,000 in donations that the Colonies Partners had made to his political action committees. This week, Postmus testified that he did not know the meaning of the Latin term, which translates to “something for something” or “this for that.”
Cope asked Postmus, “Do you remember telling members of the FBI that you didn’t believe there was any quid pro quo?”
“Yeah,” Postmus said. Cope asked him to explain that assertion.
“It was my understanding at that time that a bribe had to take place previously to the vote or whatever it might be. I didn’t understand what an actual bribe was,” Postmus said.
The four defendants are being prosecuted by a team consisting of Cope, who is one of the longest currently serving prosecutors in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the head of its public integrity unit, and Melissa Mandel, who is a supervising prosecutor with the California Attorney General’s Office. The case is being heard by two juries, one of which is evaluating the case against Burum, Biane and Kirk and the other of which is hearing the case against Erwin. Two juries are being used because investigators gathered statements from Erwin which allegedly implicated himself and at least some of his codefendants. Erwin, like all criminal defendants, has a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and may choose not to testify. His codefendants, like all criminal defendants, have a Sixth Amendment right to confront and question all accusers and witnesses in criminal proceedings against them. Thus, when Erwin’s recorded statements or investigators’ relaying of those statements are provided as evidence, the jury hearing the case against Burum, Biane and Kirk is excluded from the room and only Erwin’s jury is privy to them. A similar but slightly different circumstance exists with regard to Postmus’ testimony. Erwin made statements to him which in some fashion extend to the other defendants. Nevertheless, Judge Smith ruled that the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk could hear Postmus’ testimony regarding statements he heard from Erwin, but only after he gave the jury instructions that they would need to consider the evidence carefully and discount it if in their estimation that testimony within the context of the preponderance of the evidence indicated to them that a criminal conspiracy had not taken place.
While the California Attorney General’s Office did assign investigators to the case, the lion’s share of the investigation into the matter was conducted by investigators with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. On Wednesday, Postmus’ third day on the witness stand, Cope ended his direct examination. One of Burum’s attorneys, Jennifer Keller, began her cross examination of the former board chairman and county assessor who is widely perceived as the single most crucial witness in the prosecution’s case.
A major element of Keller’s focus was on the activity of the investigation unit of the district attorney’s office, which she implied had shaped Postmus testimony through coercive tactics, and that investigators had exploited Postmus’ fragile and pliable mental state brought on by his extended use of methamphetamine to essentially infuse in him false memories which have now been used by the prosecution to construct its case against her client and his codefendants.
Keller built upon the admissions of drug use and homosexuality that Postmus had made to Cope under direct examination to establish that his personal comportment while he was in office was far more outlandish than he had represented, and included internet-facilitated hook-ups with other gay men with whom he had no previous contact. Making more of a statement than a question, Keller propounded that Postmus’ drug addiction was accompanied by sex addiction. With no hesitation, he so acknowledged. Without actually reading into the record the text of the exchanges made during these on-line preludes to those encounters, Keller referenced them and Postmus acknowledged their existence. Without being overly graphic, Keller established that those exchanges included the arrangements for where the trysts would take place and which party would bring which drugs to those encounters. Postmus acknowledged that his maiden use of methamphetamine had occurred in just such a setting. He said his drug use, at least initially, had been intended to both intensify and prolong his sexual experience.
“While it was widely expected you were going to run for Congress, you had two huge secrets that were connected,” Keller said. “You were a closeted gay man and sex addict and you were engaging in very reckless behavior that put you at risk. You were also addicted to methamphetamine. Your drug use went hand-in-hand with your sexual encounters with strangers, a specific subset of gay men, in an activity known as “Party and Play.” Postmus acknowledge that was accurate.
Noting that if at any point this activity was publicly revealed, Postmus’ political career would have been destroyed, Keller got Postmus to admit he was compulsively using drugs without control and completely addicted, having gone beyond using street drugs and was using inhalants. He said he would “inhale cassette cleaner, anything I could get my hands on. I was a mess. I used meth every single day.”
Keller further illustrated to the jury how Postmus and the support network around him had gone to considerable lengths to prevent the public from learning of his drug use. In the summer of 2006, when he had been checked into a drug rehabilitation clinic in Yakima, Washington where there was little prospect that he would be recognized and while his extended absence from San Bernardino County was becoming a public issue, particularly in the wake of the county’s effort to bring the devastating Sawtooth Fire under control, a statement from Postmus’ camp went out on August 19, 2006 that he was in Wisconsin attending the funeral of his grandmother. Postmus told Keller he knew nothing about that misrepresentation that was put out in his name. At other points in his testimony he further indicated that his office was engaging in making public statements that were either attributed to him or designed to protect him and that he either had no knowledge of those statements being made or could not remember them at this time.
Keller also made reference to contradictory statements with regard to his drug use, even when he was ostensibly acknowledging he had a problem. She played a short video clip of his appearance before the board of supervisors in early January 2009, while he was still assessor. In it, Postmus acknowledged having dealt with the “scourge” of drug addiction, but asserted that he had overcome it. Less than two weeks later, when a search warrant was carried out at his Rancho Cucamonga residence, methamphetamine, ecstasy and paraphernalia, including a syringe containing liquefied methamphetamine, was found by investigators. During his 2011 grand jury testimony, Postmus gave statements about the cessation of his drug use which clashed with his statements in that regard during an interview with FBI agent John Zeitlin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Behnke in October 2011. Behnke now works for one of the law firms that represents Burum. Postmus said he underwent drug rehab attempts four times while he held office or shortly thereafter, none of which was effective. He said he had periods of sobriety, but none lasted until he resolved on his own volition to quit using methamphetamine, doing so in 2012. He said he has remained sober since.
Keller asked Postmus if his methamphetamine use had resulted in memory loss and if it caused memories and time lines to become “jumbled.” He said that was the case. Keller provided a tangible example of this jumbling, together with active assistance on the part of the prosecution investigators which she implied had provided the prosecution with damning evidence to support the prosecution’s theory of guilt, but which she indicated was demonstrably false.
One plank in the platform of the prosecution’s case is that during Postmus’ sojourn to China in September 2005, he had been waylaid by Burum, who was also there, and that after Postmus emerged from that several days’ long lobbying session, he intensified his previous efforts to have the Colonies lawsuit settled on terms favoring the Colonies Partners, and that he commandeered from Biane the leadership role in trying to finalize that settlement. Among the pieces of evidence the prosecution has marshaled in that regard is a text message sent on October 6, 2005 from Postmus’ Blackberry device to Ruth Stringer, who was then assistant county counsel, instructing her and the rest of the county’s lawyers to take no further action with regard to the litigation with the Colonies Partners until he met with them. “Per my direction don’t do anything further on Colonies until you talk with me,” the text states. Cope had suggested that this text message had been sent from China and when he questioned Postmus about it on Tuesday. Postmus affirmed that it had been sent from China. The clear implication of this, which favored the prosecution, was that Postmus was under the sway of Burum and was dictating instructions to the county’s lawyers at Burum’s direction.
Through a painstaking process, however, Keller used transcripts and recordings to demonstrate that the text was not sent while Postmus was in China and that the prosecution had used brainwashing techniques to lead him into believing it had. In the recording and transcription of a February 16, 2011 interrogation Postmus underwent by district attorney’s office investigators Robert Schreiber and Hollis Randles, Postmus is asked about having texted a message to Stringer telling her not to take any further action with regards to the Colonies matter. Postmus maintained at that point that he could not remember doing so. Schreiber than made repeated reference to the October 2005 text sent to Stringer. As Schreiber continued this browbeating, Postmus grew to accept that the text message, which he had indeed sent to Stringer, had been sent while he was in China. Keller then presented evidence to demonstrate that the 2005 trip to China had taken place from September 10 to September 21, 2005, establishing that the email to Stringer had gone out some two weeks after Postmus had returned stateside and was not sent while he was in the company of Burum in China.
Keller repeated this with another demonstration of a factual error and anachronism in Postmus’ statements based upon his porous memory. During another recorded and transcribed interrogation session with Postmus carried out by Randles and Schreiber on March 1, 2011, the investigators, after considerable back and forth induced Postmus to state that in 2004 he had succeeded in lining up sufficient votes by his board colleagues to fire the first outside attorney, Thomas Winfield of Brown Winfield & Canzonieri, that the county had retained to represent it in the litigation against the Colonies Partners, and that Postmus had done so because he had been directed to do so by Burum. But Keller displayed a May 4, 2004 memo to the board of supervisors from county counsel Chuck Scolastico in which it was indicated the impetus for jettisoning Winfield originated elsewhere. “Our office has evaluated this issue and will be recommending that a new firm be selected for the needed services,” Scolastico wrote.
Referencing Postmus’ earlier testimony that he had not had any extensive interaction with Burum prior to the September 2005 trip to China, Keller gave further suggestion that the investigators were planting false memories in Postmus which were then tapped into by the prosecutors when he appeared before the grand jury which indicted the defendants. She said this was continuing with his ongoing testimony.
Keller bolstered her assertion that the prosecution was using Postmus as a pliable mouthpiece of its position and theory of guilt when during an exchange which included references to changes in his responses and his sometimes spotty memory, he stated, “I testified to my interviews,” indicating he was relying on previous statements during interviews and in his grand jury testimony. He acknowledged he had reviewed his previous testimony before coming to the witness stand this week.
Keller also sought to suggest Postmus’ testimony was being influenced by the constant presence of the prosecution’s investigators in and around the courtroom as well as by the terms of his plea bargain, which puts him in the position of having to please the prosecution. Keller got Postmus to acknowledge that the amount of time he will spend in prison is yet up in the air and that, based on the limited time he has already spent in jail and the circumstances of that incarceration, he abhors the concept of going into a penal institution. She drew from him testimony indicating that it is his belief that, in return for his testimony in this case and in others, it is possible he could get a suspended sentence and not have to serve time in prison.
Postmus testified that early on in the case, both before and after criminal charges were lodged against him, he and Erwin referred to the district attorney’s office investigators as “the thug squad.” Postmus acknowledged using the term numerous times, though he indicated it was Erwin who had coined it. He said he found being interrogated by the investigators to be very unpleasant. Keller referenced how the investigators were constantly shadowing him, such that during the breaks in the court proceedings, when Postmus goes leaves the courtroom and goes down the hallway to access the facilities, one investigator goes into the men’s room with him and another stands outside. When Keller used the term “thug squad,” Postmus grimaced. Keller noted his reaction. “You looked a little uncomfortable when I said that,” Keller said.
“I was,” he answered.
“Especially when one of them is sitting right here in the courtroom,” Keller observed.
Keller inquired into why it was that the investigators were hovering around him. “Are you under arrest?” she asked.
“Not that I know of,” Postmus answered.
She revisited Postmus’ testimony with regard to Kirk elicited by Cope on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, pointing out that in Cope’s first go-around with Postmus, the former supervisor had indicated that Supervisor Gary Ovitt had been a consistent supporter of the settlement, whereas on Wednesday, when Cope again focused on Kirk, Postmus had indicated that Kirk was steering Ovitt toward supporting the settlement. Keller revisited the language in Postmus’ plea arrangement, noting that it called for his cooperation with the prosecution. She probed into why, on Tuesday, Postmus testified that Supervisor Gary Ovitt was solidly in favor of arriving at a settlement with the Colonies Partners over the litigation but that literally overnight he had revised his statements to the effect that Kirk had, as the prosecution is alleging, delivered Ovitt’s vote.
Keller implied without directly stating that the prosecution had instructed him to change his version of events.
“Today, you testified that not only did Jeff Burum tell you that Mark Kirk was going to deliver Ovitt’s vote, but that Mark Kirk told you that,” Keller said. “Were you worried that you might be seen yesterday as not cooperating with law enforcement by the testimony you gave?”
Postmus responded, “Possibly.”
“And that’s really scary,” she said.
“Could be,” Postmus replied.
Obscured by the sensationality of Postmus’ appearance was the conclusion of testimony by Thomas Malcolm on Monday. Malcolm, an attorney with the law firm of Jones Day who had represented the county in 2005 and 2006 in its legal dispute with the Colonies Partners and who had resigned along with the rest of the law firm when the 3-2 majority of the board of supervisors approved the $102 million settlement, had testified last week, strongly asserting that the settlement was not justified and was, in his words, “outrageous” and “a gift of public funds,” constituting “a crime.”
On Monday, he testified that he believed that the county would have had a strong set of arguments to make if it were to file an appeal of the findings that Judge Christopher Warner made at the conclusion of a bench trial of the quiet title lawsuit and ensuing litigation filed by the Colonies Partners against the county he heard over 18 days in April, May and June of 2006. Warner had entered a proposed statement of decision in that matter that was unfavorable to the county but it had not been finalized at the time the $102 million settlement was ratified with the 3-2 vote of the board of supervisors.
Malcolm testified that he was aware of “difficulties” in Warner’s courtroom that threw the validity of the judge’s decision into doubt.
This week the Sentinel learned there is a growing possibility that Erwin will take the stand in his own defense at the trial. Defendants at a criminal trial cannot be forced to testify. Often, defense attorneys elect to not have their clients testify. In his opening statement in January, Burum’s lead attorney, Stephen Larson, implied that his client and the other defendants would testify, but there has been no further indication with regard to that. The widespread assumption is the defendants are not likely to take the witness stand. But this week, statements emanating from the defense camp implied that Erwin will brave being questioned by prosecutors because he has information to provide that will significantly undercut the prosecution’s case.
Within the vast outreaches of San Bernardino County is one of the richest known resources worldwide of material that is fundamental to the advancement of science and top-flight industry. So substantial is that treasure that within the last decade an investment approaching $2 billion was made to facilitate its retrieval and refinement. Yet, because of the vicissitudes of the international market place and a skewed international competitive field that favors companies operating in places without regard to environmental considerations, the Mountain Pass mine now lies dormant.
Nevertheless, the circumstance is right for a deep-pocketed investor to put up $40 million to $50 million to acquire the mine and leverage those substantial dormant assets into an operation that represents future earning potential at or exceeding a billion dollars per year.
The story behind the past success and current downturn in fortunes at the Mountain Pass Mine is one laced with chance, effort and hard work, bold risk, unfortuitous events, irony and poor timing both during the 20th Century and thus far into the new millennium. Nevertheless, there is some degree of confidence that the time is now propitious for the reinvention of the mine to fully occur, boosting with it the fortunes of San Bernardino County and the country as a whole.
Lanthanides, also known as rare earth minerals or rare earth metals, are a set of seventeen chemical elements, specifically scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, gadolinium, europium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, lutetium and ytterbium. They have a number of critical industrial and technical uses and applications, including serving as components in mercury-vapor lamps, high-temperature superconductors, lasers, microwave filters, high refractive index glass, hybrid electrical vehicles, flint products, battery-electrodes, camera lenses, carbon arc lighting, didymium glass used in welding goggles, polishing powder, ceramic capacitors, nuclear batteries, rare-earth magnets, memory chips, red and blue phosphors, green phosphors, fluorescent lamps, vanadium steel, x-ray machines and infrared lasers. Rare earth elements also facilitate hydrogen storage, fluid catalytic cracking, creating violet and yellow colors in glass or ceramics, catalyzing the refining of petroleum, oxidizing chemicals, neutron capture, and contrasting magnetic resonance images.
Because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.
Until 1948, most of the world’s rare earths were mined in India and Brazil. In the 1950s, South Africa became the leading supplier of rare earth metals.
In 1949, the Mountain Pass Mine, which lies in the extreme northeast portion of San Bernardino County roughly 15 miles from the California-Nevada state line, was discovered by a uranium prospector. The Molybdenum Corporation of America bought the mining claims, and small-scale production began in 1952. Production expanded greatly in the 1960s, with the Mountain Pass facility becoming the world’s dominant producer of rare earth elements. From 1965 until 1995 it was an almost exclusive supplier of europium, which is used in color television screens. The Molybdenum Corporation of America changed its name to Molycorp in 1974 and was acquired by Union Oil in 1977.
In the 1980s, the company began piping wastewater from the mining operation 14 miles to evaporation ponds at Ivanpah Dry Lake. Ruptures in the pipeline resulted in radioactive thorium and radium leaking into the desert floor at least 60 times between 1984 and 1998, according to federal investigators, at which point the pipeline was shut down and chemical processing at the mine ceased. Unocal was served with a cleanup order and sued by San Bernardino County’s district attorney’s office in a civil lawsuit. The company paid more than $1.4 million in fines and settlements. The mine was shut down in 2002, by which time China eclipsed the United States as the leading supplier of rare earth metals. After Unocal in 2004 obtained a new operating permit for the mine, it was acquired the following year by the Chevron Corporation.
By 2005, 96 percent of the world’s rare earth elements were mined in China. In 2007, China restricted exports of rare earth elements and imposed export tariffs. In 2008, Chevron sold the Mountain Pass Mine to privately-held Molycorp Minerals LLC, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company formed to revive the Mountain Pass mine. On July 29, 2010, Molycorp, Inc. became a publicly-traded firm by selling 28,125,000 shares at $14 in its IPO. On September 22, 2010 China quietly enacted a ban on exports of rare earths to Japan. Later that fall, Congress passed legislation to subsidize the revival of the American rare earths industry, including the reopening of the Mountain Pass mine.
Initially, Molycorp lost money. But by the second quarter of 2011, the company was showing a profit. Molycorp acquired processing facilities in Arizona and Estonia. In March 2012, Molycorp Inc. acquired Neo Material Technologies Inc., a Canadian rare earth processing company, for $1.3 billion. With the cost of rare earth metals skyrocketing because of the Chinese restrictions on rare earth exports, on August 27, 2012, Molycorp initiated Project Phoenix at the Mountain Pass Mine, which involved making a $1.7 billion investment to design and build a processing plant within a processing plant that would allow for the mining of 20,000 tons of ore per year in an environmentally advanced manner where the primary waste stream out of the process was salt water. This involved Molycorp’s creation of a chemical plant that used alkali and salt water at the front end of the process to convert the ore to a semi-processed product, facilitated by the addition of an on-site combined heat and power plant to provide low-cost, high-efficiency electrical power and steam for the company’s extraction processes. There proved to be some technical difficulties but by the fall of 2014 an onsite chlor-alkali facility, which uses processed waste water to produce hydrochloric acid and other chemical reagents used in rare earth production, was operational. Shortly thereafter, the company had ramped up the production process and completed the fourth quarter of 2014 with 1,328 metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent production. That compared to 1,034 metric tons in the fourth quarter of 2013 and 691 metric tons in the third quarter of 2014. Full year 2014 production totaled 4,785 metric tons, compared to 3,473 metric tons in 2013. The company was expanding production well into the spring of 2015.
At that point, however, as the company was on the brink of having the United States emerge once again as a major competitor in rare earth mineral production, it was undercut by action the U.S. Government had previously taken in league with the European Union and Japan and some other nations, which had lodged a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization for limiting rare earth exports, which was alleged to be a violation of International Law. A decision favoring the complainants was made shortly after the Mountain Pass Mine was fully retooled, forcing China to export more rare earth metals, precipitating a substantial price drop. Thus, Molycorp, on the hook for approaching two billion dollars made in mine and plant upgrades and in need of servicing its now due debt, could not compete let alone profit or service its debt. In June 2015, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
On August 26, 2015, the company announced that as of October 20, 2015, it would transition its Mountain Pass Rare Earth Facility to a “care and maintenance” mode, putting the site, including machinery and equipment into suspension, such that it was maintained in a safe and stable condition, meeting government regulatory commitments, but available for relatively quick reinitiation of production. The rare earth pricing decline was cited as a key factor in the decision to suspend rare earth production at Mountain Pass, company officials said.
On November 3, 2015, acknowledging that its plan to reassert American primacy in the provision of materials crucial to high tech development and production had flamed out, Molycorp filed a joint plan of reorganization with its affiliated debtors at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. That plan proposed an emergence from Chapter 11 through either a stand-alone reorganization that would substantially de-lever its balance sheet or a sale of substantially all of its assets.
In March 2016, Judge Christopher Sontchi confirmed Molycorp’s Chapter 11 exit plan that left production at the mine entirely in limbo and turned the company over to senior lender Oaktree Capital Management, giving unsecured creditors a minority stake in the company, which consisted thereafter as the Canadian, Arizona and Estonia processing facilities.
On August 31, 2016, Molycorp, Inc.’s fourth joint amended plan of reorganization became effective, with the company having rechristened itself as Neo Performance Materials, with executive offices in Toronto, Canada and subsidiaries organized under a holding company based in the Cayman Islands. It was set out as three business segments: Neo Chemicals and Oxides, Neo Magnequench, and Neo Rare Metals, continuing to market and produce materials in ten countries, including Japan, China, Thailand, Estonia, Singapore, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and South Korea. Shares of common stock of the former Molycorp, Inc. were no longer available for trading on a public exchange. The Mountain Pass Mine and processing facility yet remained under a separate Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the care of Trustee Paul E. Harner of Ballard Spahr LLC after efforts to find a buyer failed. Earlier this year, Lexon Insurance Company put up $4.2 million to maintain the mine and continue the search for a buyer.
Harner, working with Batuta Capital Advisors LLP, sought to market the mine and solicit potential buyers. Late last month, it was announced that a so-called stalking horse bidder has emerged in the form of ERP Strategic Minerals LLC. A stalking horse bid is an attempt by a bankrupt debtor to test the market for the debtor’s assets in advance of an auction of them, the intent being to maximize the value of the assets or avoid low bids, as part of a court auction. Natural Bridge, Virginia-based ERP is considered as a serious contender to assume the company if no bids higher than the $40 million it is making come in. Interest has also been expressed by a Swiss firm, Pala Investment Ltd., and an Australian company, Peak Resources Ltd.
This week, at the recommendation of the county’s top in-house lawyer, County Counsel Jean-Rene Basle, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted to up its previous $100,000 retainer with the law firm of Harrison Temblador Hungerford & Johnson LLP by $150,000 to $250,000 for the provision of continuing legal services in connection with litigation regarding the Mountain Pass Mine. According to Basle, “The county is the lead agency under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act for the Mountain Pass Mine (Mine) operated by Molycorp Minerals, LLC. Molycorp filed a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceeding in Delaware in 2015 so the mine has been under the control of a Chapter 11 trustee since then. The trustee has attempted to market the mine for sale but the funding available for these marketing purposes and to keep the mine in a “cold idle” state may soon be exhausted, in which case the bankruptcy proceedings will likely be dismissed.”
Basle continued, “As the lead agency, the county has certain statutory duties to see that the mine site is reclaimed. However, the assets available to accomplish the reclamation have been contested in the bankruptcy proceedings and the dismissal of the bankruptcy will require these disputes to be resolved. Harrison Temblador Hungerford & Johnson LLP has expertise in the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act and land use issues common to mining properties, which expertise will be relied upon to ensure that the county discharges its statutory duties without incurring liability.”
Reliable sources have informed the Sentinel that efforts to geologically characterize the land upon which the mine is located have established that the soil contains lanthanide concentrations to support the mining of 20,000 tons of ore per year for thirty years and that indications are the deposits in the area far exceed that, though those concentrations have not been characterized. -Mark Gutglueck
A power and authority struggle within the Upland Police Department has manifested, resulting in two members of the department’s command echelon being put on administrative leave and a third member of the department being subjected to an administrative investigation, the Sentinel has learned.
The contretemps comes slightly more than two years after Brian Johnson, who had commanded the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division, was hired as Upland police chief following a recruitment effort.
The genesis of the current circumstance lies, it appears, in a decision by detective Lon Teague, who has been with the department for 21 years, to go out of the established channel of command set up by Johnson in attempting to have concerns by several officers with regard to policy and procedures redressed. Teague, the current Upland Police Officers Association president, approached staff at City Hall, including the city’s human resources director, with those concerns rather than seeking to have the matter discussed within the confines of the department’s senior staff, which Teague felt had little prospect of success. This was because, the Sentinel is told, some activity, action or policies the officers in question were concerned with originated with Johnson.
As of today, May 5, no official action had been taken against Teague, though the Sentinel confirmed he remains under investigation. Teague’s effort on behalf of the association and its members was backed, the Sentinel has learned, by sergeant Marc Simpson, who is the president of the Upland Police Management Association.
As a consequence of his action, Simpson, who has been with the department for 23 years, has been placed on administrative leave, as has been the second-highest ranking member of the department, captain Anthony Yoakum, who was once considered a potential candidate for police chief. Yoakum, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in workforce education and development from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Science Degree in emergency services administration from California State University-Long Beach, was the department’s investigations division commander for 19 months between December 2012 and June 2014, the department’s operations division commander for nineteen months between July 2014 until January 2016 and was chosen by Johnson to serve as the support services division commander in January 2016.
According to information provided by knowledgeable and reliable individuals, the action against Yoakum and Simpson was done by Johnson under his authority as police chief after Yoakum and Simpson sided with several field officers in their contesting of the department policy. Putting Yoakum and Simpson on leave was ultimately supported by interim city manager Martin Thouvenell, who was himself Upland police chief in the 1990s and remained in that position until he retired in 2005. Thouvenell thus has personal knowledge of all of the officers involved and oversaw Yoakum, Simpson and Teague and their advancement early in their tenure with the police department.
Despite his primacy in the department, Johnson stands as something of an outsider therein, being the first Upland police chief not to have promoted to the top spot from within the department since Eugene Mueller was persuaded to leave the Pasadena Police Department to become Upland police chief in 1941. In another respect, Yoakum stands as a peer to Johnson, who as police chief receives $165,629.62 in salary plus $167.85 in other pay and $83,442,75 in benefits for a total compensation package of $249,240.22 annually. Yoakum outearns his boss, receiving a $153,077.67 in salary, $26,652.57 in other pay and $91,884.95 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $271,515.19.
Among department outsiders who reside or own businesses in Upland, Johnson, who has a Master’s Degree in behavioral science from California State University Dominguez Hills and is a graduate of the West Point Leadership Program and the FBI National Academy, has been generally well thought of and had been lauded for his having prompted stepped-up patrol and enforcement activity shortly after he took the department’s helm. He seemed to effectively blunt criticism of the department being made by homeless advocates who had taken issue with the previous heavy-handed treatment of those living on the streets in Upland, and made a show of compassion toward many of those unsheltered living in the city, which has the dubious distinction of hosting the county’s third largest homeless population, despite its rank as San Bernardino County’s tenth largest city population-wise overall among 24 incorporated municipalities. He also seemed to competently navigate the politically treacherous straits between the city’s marijuana availability advocates and an equally vocal and active contingent of city residents vehemently in favor of cannabis prohibition, managing to maintain his personal dignity in the face of one side accusing him and his department of violating the rights of citizens seeking to maintain access to and use the drug and those at the other extreme accusing him of having been paid off by the cannabis drug lords.
The most recent threat to his authority as chief appears to have come from within the department, with complaints that he has been autocratic and that in some regards with respect to strategy and tactics has exercised a lack of judgment by placing others’ safety at risk. There have been grumblings as well about his level of professionalism in dealing with and treatment of employees and citizens.
A grassroots group, the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which has gone on record previously with regard to opposing the sale of cannabis in the city and in support of firmer policies aimed at prohibiting vagrancy and the homeless occupying public property, can be considered a bellwether of the atmosphere in and around the police department. One of that group’s leaders, Steve Bierbaum, observed, “The city has been served with at least two civil actions as a result of personnel actions within the police department. None of these employees are apparently allowed to discuss these allegations against them due to the investigations, which I believe are still active. If the allegations are factual and the chief of police suspended a police union president for bringing forward the allegations on behalf of their members, I believe, the City of Upland will face millions of dollars in civil litigation.”
Bierbaum said he had concerns as well over “decreased stability within the department and the continued exodus of experienced police officers from our city.”
Unless cooler heads prevail, Bierbaum opined, events may overtake Johnson and the department.
“I can state with absolute confidence that close to 80 percent of the police department’s sworn personnel are prepared to stand up with a vote of no confidence towards the current chief of police,” Bierbaum told the Sentinel. -Mark Gutglueck
San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello and his office have received information indicating that voter fraud has occurred in the county, the Sentinel has learned. Among the reported incidences are votes being cast on behalf of deceased individuals, in some cases several years after their deaths. A second report concerns individuals living outside the county, including ones residing outside the state, being registered to vote at addresses indistinguishable from the home addresses of elected officials.
Forces in Orange County are quietly militating toward a plan to bury over 200 tons of radioactive debris, including uranium and plutonium, from the now decommissioned San Onofre nuclear plant in the East Mojave Desert.
Construction at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station began in 1964. Unit 1, a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor operated from January 1, 1968, until November 30, 1992. It was decommissioned and dismantled. Units 2 and 3, built in the 1970s, respectively went online August 8, 1983 and April 1, 1984. Units 2 and 3 were initially licensed until 2022.
The contractor on the project, the Bechtel Corporation, was embarrassed in 1977, when it installed a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backwards. In 2010 and 2011, Edison, at a cost of $671 million, replaced the steam generators in both reactors with improved Mitsubishi steam generators. In 2012 it was discovered those generators were defective when on January 31, 2012, Unit 3 suffered a small radioactive leak largely inside the containment shell. Upon investigation, the two replacement steam generators were found to show premature wear on over 3,000 tubes, in 15,000 places. Plant officials pledged not to restart until the causes of the tube leak and tube degradation were understood. Neither unit was ever restarted and the entire plant is now to be completely decommissioned.
Within San Clemente wealthy members of that community as well as outlying areas in Orange and San Diego counties are exerting tremendous pressure on the city council to ensure that the units are entirely dismantled and all of the remnants of the plant, including its remaining and spent nuclear fuel, is removed. A plan along these lines that has been hatched is one by an El Cajon-based group, Citizens’ Oversight, to bury the nuclear waste near Fishel, located in the East Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County.
That plan is being pursued with cunning and stealth. Its proponents hope to advance it to the status of a fait accompli without alarming desert residents or San Bernardino County officials, thereby avoiding any meaningful opposition. At the May 2 San Clemente City Council meeting, the plan was mentioned. Once it was recognized that residents from San Bernardino County were in attendance, following a signal by San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Tim Brown, references to sending the waste to San Bernardino County became cryptic and were made in code, such as referring to San Bernardino County as “Arizona” or “the desert.”
Despite that effort at secrecy, the Sentinel has obtained a document generated by Citizens Oversight which states, “Moving the spent nuclear fuel away from San Onofre is essential to minimize our overall risk. But where to put it? Keeping it in California can minimize hoops to jump through. Our proposal: near Fishel, CA 92277 (San Bernardino County).”
Under “Key features” the document states with regard to the Fishel site, “Population: 0. Nearest improved property: More than 13 miles away (water pumping plant). Nearest private improved property: Cadiz about 20 miles away. Nearest larger cities: More than 50 miles away (Lake Havasu, Colorado River. Twentynine Palms is about 47 miles away from the site, three mountain ranges away. Twentynine Palms/Yucca Valley and Needles are the minor civil divisions. They border on the Arizona and California railroad line.”
The document further touts Fishel as an ideal burial spot because it is “on the Arizona and California railroad line about 21 miles from Cadiz where it connects to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad” and that the “total distance from the Barstow Burlington Northern Santa Fe switchyard is 100 miles to Cadiz, then 21 miles to Fishel.” Moreover, Fishel is, according to the document, “near a road” and “not close to any fault lines,” as well as “away from salty air [making] chloride induced stress corrosion cracking less likely.”
Putting the nuclear waste out into San Bernardino County’s desert makes sense the Citizens’ Oversight document maintains, because Fishel is “away from densely populated areas [while there are] “more than 8.4 million near San Onofre” and in the desert there is “no tsunami risk.” Furthermore, according to the document, there is “No mega freeway nearby as we have at San Onofre.” In Fishel, the document states, the eastern Mojave is “very hot and dry with very little degradation over time due to the environment.”
The document also notes that the area falls within the 8th Congressional District, represented by “Paul Cook, a Republican from Yucca Valley.” The document implies having Cook accept San Bernardino County’s role as a repository for the nuclear waste will not represent a challenge.
Of issue with those in San Clemente is that Southern California Edison, the plant’s operator, is purposed to the remove the nuclear fuel from the water filled vats it is now contained in and store it in air-cooled canisters that allow cool air to flow in and the air to then flow out after it has become heated by the fuel, thus diffusing the heat in such a way as to prevent the fuel from melting or otherwise compromising the integrity of the canisters, referred to as “dry casks.” The canisters can be transported, and it is the hope of the locals in Orange County that moving the canisters out of the area will occur on a fairly rapid timetable. In the meantime they want to stave off the possibility that the canisters will be entombed in a concrete facility to be created at the San Onofre site, which will allow adequate air circulation to diffuse the heat but will raise the likelihood that the nuclear fuel will remain housed there into perpetuity.
Cheryl Hyneka was one of the San Clemente residents who adopted the code language of Citizens’ Oversight, suggesting the San Onofre debris “should be moved off to ‘Arizona.’”
Judy Jones suggested that Orange County bring its financial and political power to bear to move the nuclear waste from San Onofre to a place like San Bernardino County. “This is political,” she said.
Bret Danson echoed Jones, saying Orange County could use its political might to saddle San Bernardino County with its problem, saying Orange County decision makers merely needed to have the “political will” to do so and that Orange County has the might to do what it wants. “I work for the federal government,” Danson said. “When they decide to move, they are going to move and they are going to make it happen.”
San Clemente Mayor Kathy Ward likewise suggested putting the nuclear waste in San Beranrdino County is better than having it in Orange County. She said Orange County locals could use the court system to send the waste to the San Bernardino County desert.
“Use the courts,” she said. “Remove it as soon as possible. San Clemente is not appropriate for a storage place.”
Ward said that San Clemente residents and those sharing their goal of removing the nuclear waste from the San Onofre site should not be specific about identifying where the final destination of the unwanted power plant debris would be.
Mayor Pro Tem Tim Brown slyly avoided direct mention of San Bernardino County in his remarks, saying, “We don’t want to take any option off the table” and referencing “the goal of moving nuclear waste to safe and remote regions [and] consolidated storage where there is consent.”
He also suggested that the hicks out in San Bernardino County could be tricked into giving their consent.
“What does consent mean?” he asked, saying the “idea” comes down to “the federal government and how they define it.”
Brown though, indicated he was not 100 percent wedded to sending the San Onofre nuclear waste to the East Mojave. “We should look at the utility of Yucca Mountain,” a reference to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, a proposed-but-not-yet-constructed deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and other at a site located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 miles northwest of the Las Vegas Valley. “Yucca Mountain is better than on our beaches,” Brown said.
Reported by Ruth Musser-Lopez from San Clemente. Written by Mark Gutglueck in San Bernardino.
A rare crack in California’s law enforcement monolith has manifested with the progress of a bill authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (Democrat-Los Angeles) that would make disciplining police officers who falsify police reports or lie on the witness stand more difficult.
AB 1298, coauthored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (Republican- Sacramento), would require when any public safety officer is under investigation and subject to interrogation by his or her commanding officer or his/her employing public safety department on the allegation of making a false statement that any administrative finding of the false statement shall require proof based on clear and convincing evidence. The bill applies only to allegations of false statements and would not affect any other allegation or charge against the public safety officer.
The bill has been lauded by unions representing police officers and police advocates. It has, however, garnered the opposition of not only the American Civil Liberties Union but those in charge of the agencies that employ those officers. Organizations representing police chiefs, police management and county sheriffs in California, such as the California State Sheriff’s Association, oppose the bill.
At present, individual agencies are free to apply whatever standard the leadership of those agencies deem fit when determining if peace officers have engaged in falsifying evidence and police reports or offering misleading or false testimony. A substantial number of those agencies will adjudge an officer to have lied if it is determined that it is more likely than not that the officer made a false or misleading statement, that is, guilt is presumed upon a preponderance of the available evidence pointing to falsification. A preponderance of evidence – anything above a threshold of 50 percent – is the same burden of proof used in civil lawsuits.
AB 1298 calls for raising the standard well beyond simply establishing that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that a police officer prevaricated to a level of there being clear and convincing evidence, meaning that there is overwhelming evidence the officer wrote a report, provided evidence or made statements he knew to be false. This is the same burden of proof required in civil liberties cases, such as restraining orders and the loss of parental rights.
Santiago maintains that his legislation is needed because an officer’s career can be ruined by a finding that he has made a false and misleading statement. Civil libertarians, however, note that in California the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act already provides officers with protections requiring that certain conditions be met when any public safety officer is under investigation and subjected to interrogation by his or her commanding officer, or any other member of the employing public safety department, that could lead to punitive action. Because of the power and authority accorded to police officers, as well as the esteem they are held in and credibility accorded to their statements in a court of law where the fate and freedom of an accused citizen, who may be guilty or innocent, is at stake, civil libertarians say justice demands that the officers be held to a high standard with regard to the accuracy and truth in their reports and testimony.
An officer deemed by prosecutors to have made a false or misleading statement is subject to being cataloged as a “Brady officer,” meaning the officer’s record of falsification is subject to disclosure to defense attorneys representing clients against whom that particular officer might testify. A defense attorney can then use a finding that an officer has lied in the past to undermine the credibility of his or her testimony.
By Count Friedrich von Olsen
A touch of senility seems to have crept into my mental aspect. By that I mean it seems I am perceiving things that by normal logical bearing would seem to have no grounding in what people typically conceive of as reality. A case in point is the way I have been gripped by this idea that Fox News is fast progressing toward shedding its claim to being the voice of American conservatives…
The problem, of course, is that it is sometimes difficult to define, exactly, what a conservative, or conservatism, is. Of that, I will hold forth a bit later. For now, though, let’s perpend Fox News. Look at what has happened there already, what is going on now, and consider where it is headed. Roger Ailes was the executive producer of the Mike Douglas Show, helped Richard Nixon formulate his television ads in 1968, assisted in the reelection campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1984, directed a savvy media campaign that assisted George Herbert Walker Bush beat Michael Dukakis in 1988, and in 1996 became, empowered with Australian Rupert Murdoch’s money, the founding chairman of Fox News. For two decades he was at the epicenter of the conservative movement and last year he was felled by charges that he had “sexually harassed” some Fox News staffers. Out he went. Over the last few months, the Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly ended up on the wrong side of this sexual harassment divide himself and – voila! – out he went. Now comes word that Kelly Wright, who co-anchors the Fox show “America’s News Headquarters,” has joined with ten of his current and former African-American colleagues at Fox in a New York state court lawsuit in which they as a class maintain they were demeaned, humiliated, paid less than white coworkers, and passed over for promotions. According to the suit, this mistreatment came at least partially at the hands of former Fox News senior vice president and comptroller Judith Slater. According to the plaintiffs, Fox executives including Dianne Brandi, Fox’s lead in-house attorney, said nothing could be done because Slater had leverage over the network because she was highly knowledgeable about the behavior of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. In February, after Roger Ailes departed and before O’Reilly’s exodus, Fox fired Slater. It is hard to say whether Fox will be able to get out from under this. Catherine Foti, a lawyer for Slater, said there is no substance to the allegations against her client…
That is the backdrop. Now let us return to defining conservatism. It seems to me that what in the popular lexicon passes for conservatism is nothing of the sort. Moreover, there is, in America today, a multiplicity of areas into which the term is applied. There is Constitutional Conservatism. There is fiscal conservatism. There is social conservatism. There is, I would assert, political conservatism. All of these conservatisms can clash with one another. Constitutional Conservatism applies to preserving the U.S. Constitution. Thus, if one is a true Constitutional Conservative, he is likely to be out of sorts with current American life. The original Constitution for example permitted white men over the age of 21 who owned property to vote. That was it. There was no women’s suffrage. No men other than Caucasians could vote. Even Caucasian men who did not own land could not vote. Caucasian men who owned property who had not yet eclipsed the age of 21 could not vote. Nowadays, little or none of that applies. To a true Constitutional Conservative, this is alarming. “Where will it go from here?” Constitutional Conservatives ask. “Will dogs and cats someday be voting?” Fiscal conservatism applies to people who want to be judicious in the spending of money. Many refer to Ronald Reagan as a conservative. But, and this will anger, I am sure, many of my fellow Republicans, Ronald Reagan was not, repeat not, a fiscal conservative. He spent money on our military industrial complex like a drunken sailor. He may have done so for a good reason and with commendable results. He initiated a peacetime arms race with the Soviet Union, and when behemoth Soviet bear attempted to keep up with the economic engine that was the United States, it collapsed. This was a good thing. But it was not an example of fiscal conservatism. Social conservatism harkens to what some refer to as old fashioned family, some might even say Christian, values. Those are out of step with the newfound and even established permissiveness which allows for the distilling of liquor and other strong beverages, the use of tobacco and marijuana, horse and dog racing, gambling, licentiousness, sodomy, pornography and for what in many circles today passes for popular music, literature and art. But I know of more than a few social liberals, indeed out and out libertines, who are bedrock fiscal conservatives. Then there is political conservatism. I define political conservatism as respect for the political order. Thus, if you were a political conservative and also a Republican and what you considered to be a conservative across the board, during the just concluded presidency of Barack Obama, you had a real dilemma. You had to support Barack Obama in his administration of government because of your commitment to political stability. Conservatism can be contradictory…
It is fashionable, at present, to equate conservatism with Republicanism. But that is a canard. Two of our most illustrious Republican presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, were flaming progressives. Freeing the slaves, indeed going to war to accomplish that goal, was not a conservative course. Nor was busting the trusts…
Now let us go back to Fox News and the ongoing purge, it seems, of the so-called conservatives there. Much of this purge comes accompanied by what some refer to as “liberal claptrap,” the causes of women’s rights and racially-based promotion or entitlement. As a billionaire myself, I run in the same circles, from time to time, as Rupert Murdoch. What is going around is that his son, James Murdoch, the heir to the Fox media empire, is one of them liberals. There is a fear, that sooner rather than later, Fox News will be populated by nothing but liberals…
Everyone knows I am a tried and true Republican. If you cut me, I bleed red. I have some elements of the conservative in my make up, but I do believe, conservatism is not automatically Republicanism and I am willing to stand by Fox News as it returns to the values of Lincoln and Roosevelt, if indeed it is purposed to return to the values of Lincoln and Roosevelt…
What would become the Mountain Pass Mine was discovered by a uranium prospector in 1949, when he noted high radioactivity in the area.
The Mountain Pass deposit is in a 1.4 billion year old Precambrian carbonatite intruded into gneiss, and contains 8% to 12% rare earth oxides, mostly contained in the mineral bastnäsite.
The Molybdenum Corporation of America bought the mining claims, and small-scale production began in 1952 on the south flank of the Clark Mountain Range and just north of the unincorporated community of Mountain Pass.
Production expanded greatly in the 1960s, when the mine was operated as an open-pit to supply demand for europium used in color television screens.
Between 1965 and 1995. the mine was the majority supplier of the world’s rare earth elements. See the front-page article in this edition of the Sentinel. reporting on the prospects of operations at the now-shuttered mine being reinitiated.
The California black oak is a tree that occurs with some degree of frequency in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The black oak, also known as the Kellogg oak, is an oak in the red oak section (Quercus sect. Lobatae), native to western North America and listed under the scientific name Quercus kelloggii. It is a close relative of the black oak (Quercus velutina) found in eastern and central North America.
A deciduous tree growing in mixed evergreen forests, oak woodlands, and Coniferous forests, the California black oak is distributed along foothills and lower mountains of California and western Oregon, from Lane County, Oregon, south through the Cascade Range, the Sierra Nevada, and the Coast, Transverse, and Peninsular ranges to San Diego County, California and into Baja California. The tree occurs in pure or mixed stands. Pure stands usually indicate sites unfavorable to conifer growth or recurring disturbance such as fire or logging activities. The tree can grow in many types of well-drained soils.
The California black oak typically grows from 30 to 82 feet in height and from one foot to four-and-one-half feet in diameter. Large trees may exceed 120 feet in height and five feet in diameter. The species also grows in shrubby scrub-oak form on poor sites. In open areas the crown is broad and rounded, with lower branches nearly touching the ground or forming a browse line. In closed stands, the crown is narrow and slender in young trees and irregularly broad in old trees. Trunks are usually free of branches on the lower 20 to 40 feet in closed stands. Trunks are often forked, and usually decayed and hollow in older trees. The bark is thin and smooth in young trees, becoming thick, ridged, and plate-like with age. A tree grows from one to several vertical roots which penetrate to bedrock, with large, laterally spreading roots extending off from vertical ones. It also has a number of surface roots.
The black oak’s acorns are relatively large, from one inch to 1.2 inches long and six-tenths to seven-tenths of an inch wide. The deeply lobed leaves are typically 4 to 8 inches long. While individual trees generally have a lifespan between 100 and 200 years, California black oak can live up to 500.
The tree reproduces when its acorns sprout to form seedlings. It also reproduces vegetatively with new growth sprouting from the root crown after the tree is top-killed by wildfire, logging, frost, or other events.
A critical species for wildlife, Quercus kelloggii is among the most important genera used by wildlife for food and cover in California forests and rangelands, and the California black oak occupies more total area in California than any other hardwood species. Cavities in the trees provide den or nest sites for owls, various woodpeckers, tree squirrels, and American black bears. Trees provide valuable shade for livestock and wildlife during the hot summer months. California black oak forest types are heavily used for spring, summer, and fall cover by black bear.
It is browsed by mule deer and livestock. Acorns are heavily utilized by livestock, mule deer, feral pigs, rodents, mountain quail, Steller’s jay, and woodpeckers. Acorns constitute an average approaching fifty percent of the fall and winter diets of western gray squirrel and black-tailed deer during good mast years. Fawn survival rates increase or decrease with the size of the acorn crop.
It is a preferred foraging substrate for many birds. Acorn woodpecker, Bullock’s oriole, and Nashville warbler show strong preference for California black oak. The parasitic plant Pacific mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum), which commonly grows on this oak, produces berries which attract birds as well.
Many animals cache the acorns, and acorns that have been stored in the ground or otherwise buried are more likely to sprout than those that remain on the surface.
The tree is adapted to wildfire. It is protected from smaller fires by its thick bark. If it is top-killed and burned away in a larger fire, it easily resprouts and has a good supply of nutrients and water stored in its root system. Acorns sprout into seedlings after fire and sites that have been cleared of canopy and leaf litter in fires are ideal for seedling success.
The black oak is vulnerable to sudden oak death.
California Native Americans preferred California black oak acorns over those of other species for making acorn meal. This acorn was a staple food for many Native American groups. Native Americans recognized the importance of fire to this oak, and purposely lit fires in oak woodlands to promote its health and ensure their food source.
The wood is used for making furniture, pallets, and construction timber. It is used as an ornamental tree.
California black oak comprises a total volume of 29 percent of California’s hardwood timber resources, and is the major hardwood sawn into lumber there.