Appellate Court Wants Prosecutors To Justify Colonies Graft Charges

A select group of prosecutors will not be able to spend a leisurely Christmas and New Year’s holiday over the coming weeks and must instead burn the midnight oil working on a response to writs of mandate filed with the state appellate court by three of the four defendants in the Colonies Settlement political corruption case.

Lawyers for Jeff Burum, Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk filed motions to have all or major portions of the cases filed against them dismissed.

On December 9, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two agreed to have a three judge panel hear the motions and gave the state attorney general’s office and the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, which are jointly prosecuting the case, 25 days “to show cause before this court why relief prayed for should not be granted. Petitioner shall have 15 days thereafter to file a traverse.”

In May, Burum, Erwin and Kirk, along with former county supervisor Paul Biane, were named in a 29-count indictment charging them with conspiracy, bribery and extortion related to what prosecutors allege was an effort to improperly settle for a $102 million payout a lawsuit Burum’s company, Colonies Partners, had brought against the county over flood control issues at its development project in northeast Upland. In November 2006, Biane, supervisor Gary Ovitt and then-supervisor Bill Postmus voted to approve that settlement in a 3-2 vote opposed by then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger and supervisor Josie Gonzales.

Postmus, who along with Erwin was previously charged with conspiracy and bribery in conjunction with his vote on the $102 million settlement, in March pleaded guilty to soliciting and receiving bribes, conspiracy and conflict of interest, and agreed to turn state’s evidence. In April, he was the star witness before the grand jury that indicted Biane, Burum, Erwin and Kirk.

Jeff Burum

Prosecutors allege that Burum, together with Erwin, who was once the president of the county’s sheriff’s deputies’ union and was then working as a consultant to the Colonies Partners, prior to the November 2006 vote threatened to carry out an informational campaign involving mailers revealing Postmus’ homosexuality and use of illegal drugs and Biane’s financial insolvency, but ultimately refrained from the distribution of the information. These “threatening, menacing, commanding or coercing” acts, constituted extortion, the prosecution alleges. After the vote, Burum provided two political action committees controlled by Postmus with separate $50,000 checks, a political action committee controlled by Erwin with a $100,000 check, a political action committee created by Kirk with a $100,000 check, and a political action committee founded by Biane’s chief-of-staff Matt Brown, but which prosecutors claim was secretly controlled by Biane, with a check for $100,000. Those checks constituted bribes, prosecutors maintain. Prosecutors allege that Kirk influenced Ovitt’s vote. Kirk at that time was Ovitt’s chief of staff.

Jim Erwin

Lawyers for the four defendants filed demurrers on their clients’ behalf in August, asserting that the indictment is flawed on multiple legal grounds, overdrawn and misapplied. Judge Brian McCarville, who heard the demurrers, ruled that some of the charges should indeed be dismissed, finding that five of the charges against Burum should be thrown out and that one count against each of the other three pertaining to violating Penal Code Section 424, which relates to misappropriation of public funds, should also be dismissed.

The state attorney general’s office, represented by deputy attorney general Melissa Mandel, and the district attorney’s office, represented by deputy district attorneys Cameron Page and Lewis Cope, appealed McCarville’s ruling to the appellate court.

By temporarily removing the matter to the appellate court prosecutors gave defense attorneys an opportunity to further attack the sufficiency of the charges lodged against their clients. Burum’s attorney Stephen Larson, Kirk’s attorneys Paul Grech and Chad Firetag, and Erwin’s attorney Rajan Maline did just that, filing the writs of mandate. Only rarely does the appellate court entertain such writs, and in the vast majority of cases, a court clerk summarily rejects them by sending back what is known as a postcard denial. In the case of the writs of mandate filed by Larson, Grech/Firetag, and Maline, the court agreed to hear them.

Stephen Larson

In his motion and brief, Larson maintains there are grounds to dismiss all of the charges against Burum. Similarly, Grech and Firetag want the entire case against Kirk dropped. Maline is requesting that the six charges against Erwin pertaining to bribery, extortion and conspiracy be dismissed. In addition, Erwin is charged with income tax evasion stemming from the bribery counts and having failed to properly disclose on governmental reporting documents all of his sources of income, in particular the gift of a watch and airline fare and lodging accommodations provided to him by Burum. If the appellate court grants a dismissal of the extortion, bribery and conspiracy counts against Erwin based on the writ of mandate, Maline intends to use that dismissal to have the tax evasion charges quashed. He would then seek to have the income reporting violations, which are being prosecuted as felonies, addressed as allegations of violations of the California Political Reform Act that are more properly dealt with not as felonies but infractions to be adjudicated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Biane’s attorney, David Goldstein, did not file a writ of mandate on his client’s behalf. Biane is the only one of the four defendants who was an elected official.

Efforts to obtain comment from Mandel, Page or Cope by press time were not successful.

Utility Dispute Hinges On Bribes

A decision on whether the city of Colton or a Riverside developer must pay for $4.9 million worth of infrastructure in south Colton has been postponed until March.

Bribes developer G.W. Singletary paid to former Colton city councilman James Grimbsy more than a decade ago have seriously complicated the question of who will pay for water and sewer improvements near property Singletary owned adjoining Center Street in south Colton.

Twenty years ago, the now-86-year-old Singletary applied with the city of Colton to develop 13 acres of 680 acres the city had annexed along its frontier with Riverside. He later put in, he claims, sewer and water lines, and paved a portion of Center Street near his property. Those sewer and water lines were not hooked up to the city’s existing system. Nevertheless, Singletary says the city committed to reimburse him for those improvements, which he undertook in good faith. He has said that the city promised to extend utilities to the area, pursuant to the annexation.

When the city did not execute as promised, Singletary in an attempt to get the city to facilitate his project in 1997, befriended Grimsby. The camaraderie between Singletary and Grimsby, it turned out, included the developer’s provision of $5,000 in bribes. When Grimsby was caught up in a much wider bribery scandal that involved other developers, former county supervisor Jerry Eaves, and former Colton city council members Abe Beltran, Don Sanders and then-mayor Karl Gaytan, all of whom were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the bribes from Singletary came to light. In April 2003, the then- 78-year-old Singletary pleaded guilty to bribing Grimsby.

Four years ago, Singletary and the city of Colton sued each other over issues relating to Singletary’s contention that the city failed to deliver on its commitment to provide infrastructure to the area near his property. At issue is who will pay for roughly $5 million worth of water and sewer improvements along Center Street.

One line of defense the city has asserted is that Singletary’s bribery conviction, involving as it did an attempt to corruptly influence a Colton city official, obviated the city’s obligation to provide any infrastructure that would benefit Singletary or his corporate affiliates.

In August, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Pacheco put off until December 20 making a ruling on whether Colton or Singletary will pay for the improvements. on Both Singletary and Colton have sought summary judgments in the case. At the December 20 procedural conference, Pacheco’s authority was attenuated by the consideration that the city has filed with the appeals court in Riverside to reinstate a cause of action in its suit.

The judge rescheduled the hearing on the conflicting motions for March 14.

11 City Managers Drawing Pay Of Over Quarter Million Dollars Per Year

Salaries for the top administrators in San Bernardino County’s 24 cities range from a low of $129,000 per year to $304,968, according to data recently released by the California Controller’s office.
The city of Ontario, which is the county’s richest city, with more than two-thirds of a billion dollars – $680,000,000 – running through all of its various funds and accounts annually, has the highest paid city manager.
The city of Needles, which is the county’s smallest municipality population-wise, pays its city manager the least.
Salaries are not the only forms of remuneration city managers receive. Nearly all of them are provided compensation in the form of benefits and add-ons that significantly increases the money taxpayers shell out for their services. Those benefits include contributions toward pensions, deferred compensation, vacation pay, leave pay, education stipends, computer, cell phone and travel allowances and health, dental, and vision coverage.
The state controller did not supply the full range of compensation for city employees in the most recent updating to its website, but did provide the salary range, wages subject to Medicare deductions, the applicable defined benefit pension formula, the employees’ share of pension contributions picked up by the cities, deferred compensation and the value of health, dental and vision benefits received by all city employees for the county’s 24 municipalities.
In the city of Adelanto, which has a population of 28,540, city manager Jim Hart’s salary range is between $210,000 and $215,000 per year. Upon reaching the age of 60, he will be eligible to draw a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum pay times the number of years he has been employed by the city. The city provides $14,700 toward his retirement fund each year and also picks up $4,002 of the cost of his medical, dental and vision plans.
In Apple Valley, which has a population of 70,040, town manager Frank Robinson is paid $222,280 in salary and is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive 2.7 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked with the city. The city pays $17,304 per year toward his pension and $11,346 in deferred compensation annually. The city also pays $12,526 in medical coverage for him and his spouse.
In Barstow, a city with a 24,281 population, interim city manager Curt Mitchell is paid $236,990 per year in salary. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive 2.7 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked with the city. The city provides $20,280 per year toward his pension and $13,968 in deferred compensation for him. The city picks up the $19,622 cost of medical, dental and visual coverage for him and his wife.
In Big Bear Lake, which has a population of 6,278, city manager Jeff Mathieu receives $221,000 per year in salary.  He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. He receives $10,000 in deferred compensation and the city covers the $13,210 cost of his and his wife’s health plan.
In Chino, where the population is 84,742, city manager Pat Glover, is paid $212,448 per year in salary.  He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.7 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.  The city pays $16,996 per year toward his retirement and $18,840 in deferred compensation to him. Chino taxpayers cover the $13,207 annual cost of his and his wife’s medical, dental and vision coverage.
In Chino Hills, which has a 78,971 population, city manager Mike Fleager receives an annual salary of  $202,800.  He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides $15,201 annually toward his pension fund and the same amount, $15,201, toward his and his spouse’s medical, dental and vision care.
In Colton, where the population is 51,816, city manager Rod Foster receives an annual $220,000 salary. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides $9,504 toward his pension fund and $11,880 for his family’s medical, dental and vision coverage.
In Fontana, the county’s second largest city population-wise at 190,356, city manager Ken Hunt has a $264,596 annual salary. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides him with $17,084 in health coverage.
In Grand Terrace, which boasts a population of 12,717, city manager Betsy Adams is paid a $209,001 annual salary. She is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.7 percent of her maximum salary times the number of years she has worked for the city. The city puts up $13,936 toward her retirement fund and provides $1,589 toward her medical, dental and vision insurance plan.
In Hesperia, a city with an 88,479 population, city manager Mike Podegracz is paid between $202,350 and $213,000 annually.  He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.7 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides $9,683 per year toward his retirement fund, another $14,332 in deferred compensation and $9,420 annually for his and his wife’s medical insurance plan.
In Highland, with a population of 52,495, city manager Joe Hughes pulls in a $168,849 annual salary. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.  The city provides $12,647 yearly toward his retirement fund, another $5,500 in deferred compensation and $10,200 to cover the cost of his health, dental and vision plans.
In Loma Linda, a city with a 22,760 population, city administrator T. Jarb Thaipejr, who is also the city engineer and director of public works, is paid a $185,000 salary annually. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides $12,139 toward his retirement plan and $10,020 for his family’s medical, dental and vision care.
In Montclair, which has a population of 37,535, city manager Edward Starr receives a $164,004 annual salary.
He is eligible at the age of 60 to retire and receive a pension equal to 3 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides $12,792 toward his retirement fund, $2,271 annually in deferred compensation and $11,280 to cover the annual cost of his and his family’s health care.
In Needles, which has a population of 5,809, city manager David Brownlee receives a $129,000-to-$132,000 annual salary.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
The city provides $9,000 per year toward his retirement fund and $13,500 for his family’s medical, dental and vision coverage.
In Ontario, which has a population of 174,536, city manager Chris Hughes is provided with a salary of $304,968 per year. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
The city provides $3,733 per year toward his retirement fund, another $3,518 in deferred compensation and $1,874 toward his health, dental and vision insurance.
In Rancho Cucamonga, which has a population of 178,904, city manager John Gillison is provided with a salary that ranges between $206,856 and $293,280 per year.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city provides $14,592 per year toward his retirement fund, $14,490 for deferred compensation and $7,189 to cover his health plan.
In Redlands, a city of 71,926, city manager Nabar Martinez has an annual salary of $240,488.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city is setting aside $16,723 per year for his retirement fund, another $5,935 in deferred compensation and is underwriting his and his wife’s health care at a cost of $19,189 per year.
In Rialto, where 100,260 people reside, city administrator Mike Story is provided with a $264,120 annual salary.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.7 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city is setting aside $19,489 per year for his retirement fund. It provides $11,978 per year for his  health plan.
In San Bernardino, the county’s largest city with a population of 204,800, city manager Charles McNeely is paid $288,749 in salary per year.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.7 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
The city contributes $20,872 annually to his retirement fund and provides him with $12,922 to pay for his family’s health, dental and vision insurance policy.
In Twentynine Palms, which has a population of 30,649, city manager Richard Warne is paid a salary of $154,775 per year.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city contributes $12,432 per year to his retirement fund and provides $16,306 annually to cover his health plan.
In Upland, a city of 76,106, city manager Steve Dunn receives an annual salary of $271,700. He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. The city contributes $19,019 to his retirement fund, another $16,283 toward deferred compensation and $15,371 per year for his family’s medical, dental and vision insurance plan.
In Victorville, which has 112,097 residents, city manager Doug Robertson takes home a salary of $249,996 per year.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
The city sets aside $21,294 per year to infuse his retirement fund, provides $25,143 for deferred compensation and $7,512 toward his medical, dental and vision plan.
In Yucaipa, a city with a population of 51,476, city manager Ray Casey receives $195,598 per year as a base salary.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
The city is setting aside $11,023 for his retirement fund, another $5,127 toward deferred compensation and putting up $8,400 per year to provide him and his wife with health care.
In Yucca Valley, which has 21,292 residents, town manager Mark Nuami receives a salary of $190,000 per year.
He is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
The town is providing $7,802 per year toward his retirement and $6,019 to pay for his family’s health coverage.

The following clarification of this article was published in the Sentinel on December 30:

In an article published by the Sentinel last week pertaining to the salaries of city managers in San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated cities and towns, the figures were provided by the California Controllers office. The Sentinel, relying on that information, reported that Needles, which is the county’s smallest city, has a population of 5,809, and that city manager David Brownlee receives a $129,000-to-$132,000 annual salary and is eligible at the age of 55 to retire and receive a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city. Furthermore, the Sentinel reported, the city provides $9,000 per year toward Brownlee’s retirement fund and $13,500 for his family’s medical, dental and vision coverage.
Brownlee contacted the Sentinel this week to say that “Needles’ population, per the 2010 Census is 4,844. The population grew by 14 from 2000 to 2010 (0.002898551 percent).  The budgeted range for the Needles city manager position is indeed $129,000 to $132,000 per annum. I, however, make $50.47/hour based on furlough truncated annual hours of 1,976. All employees take furlough. My annual salary is $99,728.72. At an ex-furlough 2,080 hours it would be $104,977.60 per annum. Furloughs are the new norm and are essential to ensure solvency of the city.”
If you are aware of inaccuracies that have appeared in the Sentinel, you can bring them to our attention by emailing us at




Cole Now 29 Palms Mayor

TWENTYNINE PALMS—On December 13, John Cole was selected by his council colleagues to serve as Twentynine Palms mayor for the next 12 months.
Cole was nominated by outgoing mayor Jim Harris as his successor.
Cole, 66, has been on the council since 2008. He is a retired educator and was the assistant superintendent for personnel, business and student services of the Morongo Unified School District. Previous to that he was principal of Twentynine Palms High School and Condor Elementary School.
Cole has a Bachelor of Science degree in math from Loyola University, and a Masters degree in education from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1945, Cole has lived in Twentynine Palms since 1966. He and his wife, Marsha, have raised five children. One of those, Kevin, previously served on the Twentynine Palms city council and was Mayor in 2006.
Cole currently serves on the board of directors for the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), which is the county transportation agency; the board of the Morongo Basin Transit Authority (MBTA); the county’s Flood Control Advisory Committee; and the board of the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District.

Solvent Plume From Airport Threatening Chino Water Basin

The Chino Water Basin is being threatened by a spreading plume of solvent contamination in the water table, documents obtained by the Sentinel reveal. The pollution lies beneath what is otherwise prime real estate, consisting of undeveloped or former agricultural land east of Los Serranos and northwest of Prado Dam in the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County.
State and local officials have recognized at least since 1989 that perchloroethylene and trichloroethene have been emanating into the groundwater supply from Chino Airport.
Chino Airport is a county-owned and operated facility that covers an area of 1,097 acres which contains three asphalt-paved runways, several hangars, a few suites of executive offices and classrooms and the Planes of Fame and the Yanks Air museums, where aircraft restoration and preservation conducted by several different companies takes place. Previously, during World War II, flight training was carried out at the airport and after the war, hundreds of former combat aircraft were flown into Chino for disposal. Many of the planes were dismantled and melted into aluminum ingots by means of portable smelters which were installed at the facility.
On October 31, 1990, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a clean-up and abatement order to the county of San Bernardino for suspected contamination of groundwater underneath the Chino Airport. The groundwater is believed to have been contaminated due to past usage of perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE). In seeking to comply with that order, the county has conducted activities at the airport to identify all potential sources of contamination; characterize identified source areas; remediate discovered soil contamination; characterize ground water contamination; monitor ground water contamination; and mitigate identified groundwater contamination within the confines of the airport located at 7000 Merrill Avenue in Chino. One of those activities was the sinking of 33 monitoring wells.
Perchloroethylene, which is also known as tetrachloroethylene, is a man-made chemical used primarily in dry cleaning, adhesives, metal degreasing and manufacturing. A non-flammable and colorless liquid at room temperature, it evaporates rapidly into the air. Perchloroethylene is classified as carcinogenic to humans by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trichloroethene is a chemical compound, also known as trichloroethylene,  a chlorinated hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent. It is a clear non-flammable liquid. Research from cancer bioassays performed by the National Cancer Institute showed that exposure to trichloroethylene is carcinogenic in animals, producing liver cancer in mice, and kidney cancer in rats. There are indications as well that it could elevate the incidence of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in populations exposed to it in drinking water.
The National Toxicology Program’s 11th Report on Carcinogens categorizes trichloroethylene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals.
The presence of PCE and TCE in the Chino Basin’s water table loomed into focus recently because of action by the county in increasing the contract for a company involved in the surveying of the extent of the contamination.
According to a memo obtained by the Sentinel titled “Chino Airport Groundwater Assessment Recommendations” dated December 13, 2011 from Mike Williams, the county’s director of airports, and Carl Alban, the county director of architecture and engineering, to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, a more than five-year effort by a company, Pasadena-based Tetra Tech, Inc., to determine the extent of the groundwater contamination in Chino has not yet achieved a definitive determination. “On October 17, 2006,” Williams and Alban told the board, “the board of supervisors approved a contract with Tetra Tech, Inc. to conduct a groundwater assessment of the water table at the Chino Airport and investigate possible sources of contamination. On September 11, 2007, the board approved amendment No. 1 to extend the assessment services an additional 24 months for preparing bid documents, providing inspection and testing services, and performing quarterly sampling/reports. On September 22, 2009, the board approved amendment No. 2 to extend the assessment services an additional 12 months to continue the same efforts. Amendment No. 3 was approved by the board on February 15, 2011, extending the assessment services an additional 12 months to continue the same efforts. Amendment No. 3 also included an initial phase of historical site analysis to assist in determining potential responsible parties. Due to the intensive level of coordination and communication with outside agencies, amendment No. 3 was not adequate to provide a full 12 months of inspection and testing services and quarterly sampling/reports, and therefore amendment No. 4 is required at this time. Contract amendment No. 4 is recommended in order to maintain continuity of the ongoing research and investigation, negotiations with outside agencies, and coordination with risk management.”
The reference to risk management is to that division of the county which assesses areas of potential liability and provides decision makers with options to redress the circumstances and/or minimize liability. Accordingly, the document indicates the potentiality that landowners and residents whose property and/or health could be negatively impacted by the contamination may be in a position to take legal action against the county.
An unidentified employee at Tetra Tech referred questions from the Sentinel to the county department of airports.
Gerald Greene, the senior environmental engineer with the Chino Basin Watermaster, in fielding a series of questions submitted about the extent of the groundwater contamination in the area, told the Sentinel “The questions you asked could lead into litigation-related issues. We have been directed to refer your phone call to our legal counsel, Michael Fife.”
Fife is an attorney with the Santa Barbara-based law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which specializes in environmental and real estate issues. Fife said he could not readily provide much general or technical information beyond acknowledging that the watermaster is aware of the situation involving the plume of TCE and PCE.
“Those are technical questions and I have to go to our technical people to consult for answers as to what the extent of the contamination is and how that changes our water quality. Unfortunately, we just lost our general manager and I can’t speak for the board and make that kind of evaluative statement. I can tell you the remediation is the responsibility of the county, and the Chino Basin Watermaster has been in a water monitoring role. Where the plume is and what the terms of the remediation are is not something the watermaster has been involved in. We have not been involved in the legal action involving the county and whoever was at the airport. The watermaster’s role is we just monitor the basin.”
Kurt Berchtold, an executive officer with the California Water Quality Control Board, this week told the Sentinel, “There clearly is a plume of TCE migrating south-southwest from the airport property. The highest level of TCE detected is 420 parts per billion.”
The allowable California safe drinking water standard is 5.0 parts of TCE per billion, such that some of the water in the basin is testing at a level that is 84 times higher than is considered safe.
Berchtold said, “We’ve not identified the precise source of contamination, but it is clear from the distribution of TCE in the water that it comes from historic sources along the western end of the airport property. It likely dates back some time, since TCE was phased out of use in the 70s. TCE and PCE have similar uses. They are basically degreasing solvents.  PCE replaced TCE after TCE was phased out. Although PCE has been detected, the TCE is at much higher concentrations in the plume.”
Berchtold said the contamination is spreading. “From the work the county has done, we know it has migrated into a substantial area,” he said. “There are 28 permanent wells in the area and other additional sample ground water collection efforts where they drive a probe and collect water from the water table at depth. There are multiple points where they have encountered readings of over 100 parts per billion. There are definitely areas of elevated concentration.”
At present, Berchtold said, the plume has migrated “to a point about 7,500 feet from the airport, just south of Bickmore Avenue.”
Monitoring of the problem has advanced to a considerable degree, Berchtold said, indicating that the remediation of the problem has not yet begun in earnest, though he said an existing filtering plant aimed at dealing with the residue from agricultural use of the property currently offers some limited treatment of captured water.
Berchtold said, “The county is subject to a cleanup and abatement order we have issued. They are required to investigate and clean up. They have done a substantial amount of investigation and they will need to install additional wells. They have not submitted a cleanup plan yet. However, some of the plume is being captured by a desalter project that has wells within the area of the plume.”
The desalter plant is aimed at filtering nitrates and salts in the water table that have accumulated in the aquifer as a consequence of the significant number of dairies in the area.
“The nature of this groundwater basin is the water flows southerly and enters ultimately the Santa Ana River,” Berchtold said. “The desalter plant was built to capture the water before it reaches the river and remove the high concentration of salt and nitrate so it does not enter the river. The plant also pulls in TCE so the TCE is not making it into the river, either.”
Nevertheless, the desalter plant is inadequate to the task of effectuating the whole cleanup, Berchthold said.
“The desalter plant does not capture all of the plume from the airport,” he said. “After the county completes sinking additional wells and determining the full extent of the contamination, they will have to come up with a proposal to deal with the part of the plume not dealt with by the desalter wells. The goal is to restore that part of the basin so it could again be used for supplying drinking water. As it is, because of the presence of salts and nitrates. the water there is not usable for the drinking water supply anyway, but the overall goal is to remove all of the contaminants from the water table, the salts, the nitrates and the TCE.”
Berchthold acknowledged that the problem has been recognized as existing for some time and that the remediation would proceed at a glacial pace, taking a generation or more to complete.
“We have been working well with the county for several years now,” he said. “We expect the county will in the future submit a cleanup plan for the rest of the plume. It is difficult to predict how long that will take to complete. Groundwater moves very slowly. It often takes tens of years to correct something like this. It is not something that will happen quickly. With the desalter project and what county does to deal with the plume, that combination will ensure the water in the basin is protected.”
While it was entities that were located on the airport before the county took on ownership there that most likely created the problem, the county’s current ownership of the airport makes it responsible for abating the problem there, Berchtold said.
“The county as the current property owner would have liability,” he said. “Whatever liability other parties that operated there might also have would depend on a variety of factors. If those other parties could be shown to have actively discharged the TCE, the county would have the option of suing them to recover the cost it is bearing in completing the cleanup.  It is often difficult to go back many years and find that evidence, though.”
Among the companies and entities operating at Chino Airport were the U.S. Military, the Aeromotive Corporation and the Cal-Aero Flight School, founded by Major Corliss Champion Moseley, a veteran World War I pilot who began his aviation career with the Army Signal Corp in 1917 and became involved with various aspects of commercial aviation after leaving the service. Moseley operated a flight and aeronautics mechanics school at Chino Airport in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
The contamination represents a far more serious threat to the water supply than it does to the usability of the real estate around the base, Berchtold opined.
“The contamination doesn’t really directly interfere with the property for other uses,” he said. “The presence of TCE and PCE at some depth below the property could complicate redevelopment if lenders see some liability for landowners that overlie a plume, but that can be worked out if the responsible party identified has accepted liability for correcting the problem.”
The board of supervisors this week approved Williams’ and Albans’ recommendation with regard to amendment No. 4 to the contract with Tetra Tech, increasing by $231,100 the total contract amount from $733,000 to $964,100 and extending the contract through December 2012 for professional services related to the groundwater assessment at Chino Airport.
The original, first, second and third amendments of the contract were budgeted and encumbered in prior years. Amendment No. 4 is fully funded within the current fiscal year’a airports capital improvement fund budget. There is a potential for reimbursement from the county’s risk management division through general liability insurance policies to offset the cost incurred by airports.
The newly extended contract with Tetra Tech provides engineering, testing and inspection services to characterize a plume of perchloroethylene/trichloroethene contamination extending south of Chino Airport through December 2012, provides four quarterly tests on each of the 33 previously installed monitoring wells; testing of the samples collected; compiling and evaluating the data obtained; and preparing a work plan and procurement support for additional groundwater characterization as mandated.
Both the county and Tetra Tech are to work with the Chino Desalter Authority and the Chino Basin Watermaster and their consultants to review and evaluate well locations, treatment methods, and preliminary designs for the Chino Creek well field. Tetra Tech will also conduct research regarding the usage and history of the airport to identify and document tenants who may have contributed and/or been the cause of contamination. The research is intended to provide information regarding the activities in which tenants were engaged,  along with the substances that might have been produced and/or stored at the airport.
The county received an updated clean-up and abatement order from the Regional Water Quality Board in June 2008. This order required the county to conduct investigation, containment and mitigation of volatile organic compounds off-site of the Chino Airport.

FBI Probing Prime Health Care For Alleged Bill “Upcoding”

For the second time in the last three months, Dr. Prem Reddy and his signature enterprise, Prime Healthcare Services, find themselves militating to overcome the interference of a substantial law enforcement authority in the effort to maintain and expand Prime Healthcare as one of the largest health care providers in the state of California.
In the most recent case, the FBI has reportedly interested itself in Prime Healthcare’s billing practices with regard to services rendered to elderly patients. The FBI investigation follows an unsuccessful effort by the California Attorney General’s Office to block Prime Healthcare’s arrangement with Victor Valley Community Hospital to take on a managerial and operational role at that struggling hospital.
According to three well-placed sources, the FBI is interviewing current and former Prime Healthcare employees with regard to billing practices at Prime Healthcare Services.
Prime Healthcare, which was founded by Reddy in 1985, is today the largest operator of medical facilities in Southern California and it owns 14 hospitals in California and one hospital in Texas.
In 2010, Victor Valley Community Hospital, which was staggering under more than $20 million in debt,  filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the 101-bed hospital was put on the auction block. KPC Global Care outbid Prime Healthcare, tendering a $37 million offer in November 2010 that was $2 million above Reddy’s offer. But after KPC obtained the state attorney general’s approval for the takeover, it failed to finalize the acquisition and that deal fell apart. Subsequently, a federal bankruptcy court judge approved an agreement allowing the  non-profit arm of Reddy’s for-profit venture, known as Prime Healthcare Service Foundation, to purchase the hospital for $35 million.
On September 20, however, the state attorney general’s office intervened, blocking Reddy from absorbing Victor Valley Community into his portfolio. A major consideration was that Victor Valley Community was founded and set up as a non-profit institution.  The attorney general’s office had moved to ensure that the High Desert preserve at least one non-profit hospital in an area with a multiplicity of for-profit medical centers, including one already owned by Reddy, Desert Valley Hospital.
“We have concluded that this proposed sale is not in the public interest and will likely create a significant effect on the availability or accessibility of health care services to the affected community,” acting chief deputy attorney general Michael Troncoso said at that time.
Nevertheless, with Victor Valley Community teetering on the brink of financial collapse, Reddy on October 14, 2011 proffered capital in the form of loans and a consulting arrangement to prevent the hospital from having to close its doors. That assistance was codified in the form of what was called a “post-petition revolving credit and security agreement between Victor Valley community Hospital as borrower and Prime Healthcare Management, Inc. as lender.
The California Attorney General’s office redoubled its effort to prevent that agreement from being actuated and filed on October 28 for and on October 31 was tentatively denied a temporary restraining order to prevent the hospital from entering into a financing plan and consulting arrangement with Prime Healthcare. Last month,  Superior Court Judge Steve Malone again denied the state attorney general office’s  effort to block  the $6 million financing and consulting agreement.
Simultaneously, on a separate track, another effort involving investigative and prosecutorial agencies, in this case federal ones, was launched.
The Sentinel has learned that the FBI, at the direction of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is looking into reports that Prime Healthcare facilities consistently billed Medicare for treating elderly patients with specific medical issues more than several other hospitals.
One unconfirmed report was that the complaint mirrored previous accusations leveled at Prime Healthcare with regard to Medi-Cal and Medicare billing irregularities that were investigated by the state. That probe was closed out with no action when investigators failed to turn up sufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution or further action. According to that report, the referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office originated with the California Attorney General’s Office.
The FBI is the investigative arm of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and has a policy of neither confirming nor denying ongoing investigations.
Paralleling the FBI investigation were two reports published in October and this week by California Watch, which is put out by the Center For Investigative Reporting.
The latest report, published on December 13 and authored by Lance Williams, Stephen K. Doig and Christina Jewett, delineated information contained within patient admission records and other data that shows Prime Healthcare facilities have a pattern of billing for rare and serious medical conditions that typically generate bonus payments to hospitals. According to the article, the percentage of elderly admitted patients diagnosed at Chino Valley Medical Center – a Prime Healthcare facility – as suffering from acute heart failure stands at  33.7, which, the authors state, is “the highest in California and five times the state rate.”
In focusing on Prime  Healthcare’s Chino Valley Medical Center, the article asserts, “The hospital appears to have taken advantage of Medicare rule changes that authorized bonus payments for treating patients with major complications.”
A sidebar article authored by Jewett quotes two former Prime Healthcare billing office employees, Anneke Doty and Danika Fedeli, who both confirmed that the FBI is looking into the system’s billing practices. Doty and Fedeli told Jewett that at a December 2010 meeting at another Prime Healthcare facility, Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego, Reddy told attendees there that doctors and hospital officials should “document rare medical conditions that entitle hospitals to more taxpayer dollars than common maladies.”
Medicare payment formula remunerates doctors and medical facilities with more substantial payments for treating more serious conditions. .
Fraudulently inflating Medicare billings by misrepresenting the gravity of a patient’s medical condition, known as “upcoding” in the medical business, is prohibited under federal statute. Prime Healthcare maintains it does not engage in upcoding and that diagnosing patient conditions is carried out by medical doctors and is not a function of the billing department.

County Grants Easement For sbX

The county has granted a permanent easement along Hospitality Lane to the county transportation agency to facilitate the sbX project.
The Omnitrans sbX E-Street Corridor Bus Rapid Transit Project is a rapid speed, bus service involving dedicated bus lanes and alternative-fuel powered articulated busses that will provide transportation for students, seniors, commuters and transit-dependent residents between the Veterans Administration hospital in Loma Linda and Cal State San Bernardino.
The sbX corridor will stretch approximately 16 miles with six major destinations to include the California State University San Bernardino campus, E Street in downtown San Bernardino, the Orange Show Fairgrounds, Hospitality Lane near the Hunts Lane intersection, Loma Linda University Medical Center, and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Loma Linda.
The line is to be constructed such that the bus will not need to stop at red lights and will be able to go from one end of the route to the other in 22 minutes.
The county transportation agency, San Bernardino Associated Governments, known by its acronym SANBAG, on behalf of Omnitrans, is requested an easement over county-owned property located at 222 W. Hospitality Lane for the construction of that portion of the project that extends along Hospitality Lane at the Hunts Lane intersection. The project requires a permanent public street easement containing approximately 489 square feet and a temporary construction easement, containing approximately 753 square feet, in order to widen the public street for the bus lane.
SANBAG appraised the required easements and made an offer in accordance with Government Code Section 7267.2. Compensation to the county includes the appraised value of $10,700 for the easement areas plus $5,000 to replace/refurbish the existing on-premise sign for a total of $15,700. A summary of the appraisal was provided to the Real Estate Services Department for review and was determined to be reasonable compensation for the rights being acquired and the on-premise sign improvements.
SANBAG anticipates the proposed construction on or near the county-owned property will take approximately six months. SANBAG further ensures it will construct the project in this area on nights and weekends to limit interruption of County business operations at the 222 W. Hospitality Lane building.
The project is not without controversy. At a cost of $190 million, it will include $54 million in federal subsidies. A number of businesses along the route, particularly those located on Hospitality Lane have misgivings about the elimination of the center lane on those thoroughfares to accommodate the bus line, which will eliminate as well motorists’ options to turn left except at intersections. This will, entrepreneurs maintain, result in potential customers bypassing their businesses because of the need for those in vehicles to perform u-turns or left turns at intersections coupled with a u-turn on a cross street to reverse direction and to then be able to access those businesses’ parking lots.
Other critics of the project point out that an existing bus line already runs between Loma Linda and the state college and that those busses have a very limited ridership.

Disabled Student Threatens Suit Over Exclusion From Baseball Team

A publicly unidentified Ayala High School student who is handicapped is demanding to be permitted to play on the school’s baseball team, intimating he will file suit if the school does not allow him to suit up.
The student, a 17-year-old who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, alleges he was cut from the Bulldogs’ junior varsity squad because he is disabled and that the team coaches made unfair comparisons of his talents on the diamond with other non-disabled players.
So far, the school and the Chino Valley Unified School District have had no comment.
A lawyer hired by the youth’s family, Riverside-based Jason Ryan Thompson, laid out the accusations in a press release. The student’s name was not provided. No suit had yet been filed, but according to the release, district superintendent Wayne Joseph and Ayala principal Diana Yarboi have been served with a “letter of demand” referencing the boy’s mother’s insistence that her son be allowed to be a member of the team. His being accepted as a member of the team does not require that he actually play in games.
According to the release, the team’s coaches have steadfastly refused to allow the student to participate on the team in any fashion, and adamantly refuse to allow him playing time on the field.
Concern has been expressed about the student’s safety, but according to the press release, he previously “played on the Ayala freshman baseball team and was at no time seen as a danger to himself or other players,” and notes he “grew up playing baseball with many of his friends who are current members of the Ayala junior varsity baseball team.”
The release said the family simply wants “compassionate inclusion rather than callus exclusion.”

GOP Central Committee Appoints Brenda Chabot Executive Director

The San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee has selected Brenda Chabot to serve as its executive director.  “Mrs. Chabot brings a wealth of experience, professionalism and excitement to one of the most important positions for our party,” said county GOP chairman Robert Rego.
Chabot is the wife of Paul Chabot, who in 2010 unsuccessfully vied for the Republican nomination in the 63rd Assembly District.
As executive director, Mrs. Chabot will be responsible for the day -to-day operations of the party, including important projects involving voter registration, “Get Out The Vote,” candidate recruitment, volunteer selection and training, and fundraising.  “I am really pleased to see the county party confirm the selection of Brenda Chabot as executive director,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton. “I have every confidence she will bring a focus to the grassroots efforts to increase voter registration and getting the vote out at election time.”
“Brenda Chabot is an absolute outstanding choice for this very important position,” said Kathy Faxon, president of the San Bernardino County Republican Women Federated. “I can’t think of a more qualified person who also has the ability to work with everyone. It’s exciting to see such a wonderful person selected as our county’s first women executive director.”
Prior to accepting the position, Mrs. Chabot served as director of the FreeStyle Foundation Inc., a non-profit organization managing a number of initiatives in California, including the Coalition for a Drug Free California. She is a former San Bernardino County probation officer, San Bernardino County sheriff community services officer, and pharmaceutical sales professional. Mrs. Chabot’s political experience includes serving on the board for the Chaffey Community Republican Women’s Federated; senior campaign advisor for her husband’s 2010 state assembly race; as well as the 2006 and 2008 “Get out the Vote” drives in San Bernardino County.
Mrs. Chabot holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, San Bernardino, a Masters in Educational Counseling from the University of Redlands, certificate in entrepreneurial studies from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, and is a graduate of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy and Probation Academy.
Mrs. Chabot is a lifelong resident of San Bernardino County. She and her husband have three children and reside in Rancho Cucamonga.