Single Day Of Testimony In Colonies Trial’s Sixth Week Features Erwin Associate

In abbreviated hearings in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Trial this week, a former sheriff’s deputy who was a self-described friend of one of the defendants provided a tangle of contradictory statements that both advanced and hindered the prosecution while simultaneously hurting and helping his friend’s defense.
Steven Hauer, who at the age of 53 is a year younger than Colonies criminal case defendant Jim Erwin, joined the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in the same time frame as did Erwin. Just prior to his having become a deputy, Erwin worked as a financial planner and adviser. Shortly after Erwin became a deputy, he was elected to serve as the sheriff’s deputies’ union treasurer. Subsequently he would become union president.
Hauer testified he met Erwin relatively early in their respective careers as deputies and that he and Erwin had been friends for more than twenty years. He further testified that he had been recruited by Erwin, who was active in raising money for then-San Bernardino City Councilman Neil Derry in his campaign for Third District San Bernardino County Supervisor in 2008, to assist in the Derry campaign, primarily by posting campaign signs.
Hauer’s father, who owned a metal fabricating business in San Bernardino, agreed to make a donation to Derry’s campaign. Hauer testified that Erwin arranged for his father to donate half of that money intended for Derry directly to the Derry campaign and the other half to Erwin’s political action committee, the Committee for Effective Government. “There
were two separate funds going to two separate entities,” Hauer said.
The Committee for Effective Government, prosecutors allege, is among five political action committees, known by the acronym PACs, which received a total of $100,000 in campaign donations from the Colonies Partners development consortium in 2007. Two of those political action committees, Inland Empire PAC and Conservatives for a Republican Majority, were controlled by Bill Postmus, who was county supervisor from 2000 to 2007 and county assessor from 2007 until 2009. Another of those PACs, San Bernardino County Young Republicans, had been founded by then-supervisor Paul Biane’s chief of staff, Matt Brown, but, according to prosecutors, was secretly controlled by Biane. Another, Alliance for Ethical Government, was created by then-supervisor Gary Ovitt’s chief of staff, Mark Kirk.
After four years of litigation between the Colonies Partners and the county relating to flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in Upland, Postmus, Biane and Ovitt voted in November 2006 to have the county confer $102 million on the Colonies Partners to settle that lawsuit. Between March and June of 2007, Colonies Partners co-managing principals Dan Richards and Jeff Burum wrote two separate $50,000 checks to the political action committees controlled by Postmus; a $100,000 check to the PAC controlled by Kirk; a $100,000 check to the San Bernardino County Young Republicans PAC operated by Brown and, which prosecutors say, was under Biane’s control; and a $100,000 check to Erwin’s Committee for Effective Government. Prosecutors maintain those checks, in the cases of Postmus, Biane and Kirk were bribes, and in the case of the one provided to Erwin, a reward for his effort in the months running up to the settlement to threaten, intimidate and blackmail Postmus and Biane into supporting the lawsuit settlement. Prosecutors allege the $100,000 provided to Kirk’s PAC was a kickback for having influenced Ovitt’s vote in favor of the settlement. In the current trial, which revolves around allegations of bribery and extortion, Burum, Erwin, Biane and Kirk are charged. Postmus previously pleaded guilty to a raft of political corruption charges and has turned state’s evidence, agreeing to testify against the others in exchange for leniency in his sentencing. His testimony, which has yet to come, is anticipated as the linchpin of the entire trial.
Aided by Hauer’s previous testimony before two grand juries in 2009 and 2011 together with statements he had provided to district attorney’s office investigators in the same time frame, Supervising Assistant California Attorney General Melissa Mandel questioned Hauer about his involvement, or lack thereof, in Erwin’s PAC, which was created in March of 2007. .Before the grand juries, Hauer had testified that he had no awareness whatsoever that he was identified as the executive director on Erwin’s Committee for Effective Government PAC in its chartering documents filed with the California Secretary of State’s office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. To Mandel’s precisely worded questions, Hauer acknowledged that he had not known he was represented as being the executive director for Erwin’s PAC, or of his name being signed to the PAC’s chartering document and bylaws. He said he had never seen the PAC’s bylaws and that he never attended any meetings of the PAC’s board.
A difficulty in questioning Hauer that Mandel had to overcome was what Hauer acknowledged to her in response to one of her questions, which is that he and Erwin are yet friends. In response to several of her questions and particularly in response to differently angled questions from Erwin’s defense attorney, Raj Maline, Hauer gave indication of his skepticism, in general, over the validity of the overall assumption of guilt being propounded by the prosecution against Erwin, and, specifically, the intellectual honesty of the district attorney’s office investigators in the manner in which they had carried out their inquiries and framed questions.
This was illustrated by the competing prosecution and defense narratives carried out during the questioning of Hauer with regards to what was perhaps the most crucial evidence brought to focus during his time on the witness stand – an internal Committee for Effective Government memo ostensibly from Hauer to the PAC’s treasurer/bookkeeper bearing Hauer’s signature, authorizing a $5,000 payment from the PAC to Erwin for consulting services.
“This memo is to confirm approval of payment of the attached invoice from Jim Erwin,” the memo reads.
Hauer testified that he had not signed the memo. Thus, in her direct examination, Mandel appeared to have inflicted considerable damage on Erwin, undergirding, at least as far as Erwin is concerned, the prosecution theory that the political action committees controlled by the defendants were shams and intended to not only launder the bribe money provided by the Colonies Partners but deliver that money to the ultimate intended recipients.
Maline, however, sought to blunt that thrust by suggesting through his questioning that Erwin had overridden an accusation of far more sinister action, the forging of Hauer’s signature not on a memorandum but rather on a check.
Maline prompted Hauer to acknowledge that he and Erwin were in some fashion politically intertwined. After the 2008 Derry campaign succeeded, Derry hired Erwin as his chief of staff and Erwin then prevailed upon Derry to hire Hauer to perform constituent services for his office in the Third District’s mountain communities. Hauer thus grew to be part of the Derry/Erwin political team. Indeed, Hauer testified, when after Erwin’s 2009 arrest in the aftermath of the scandal that had beset Postmus and the assessor’s office, Hauer was promoted to the position of Derry’s deputy chief of staff.
In his cross-examination of Hauer, Maline elicited from the witness that as a former law enforcement professional steeped in that culture, he was very concerned about the tenor and direction of the district attorney’s office’s investigation and was even concerned that he might himself be arrested.
“From my background it felt intimidating,” Hauer said.
“Were you afraid you were going to be arrested?” Maline asked.
“I was feeling very uncomfortable with the way things were being handled,” Hauer responded.
Asked what it was like being interviewed by district attorney’s office investigator Hollis Randalls, Hauer said, “It was very intimidating.”
Artfully, weaving innuendo into his questions that Mandel was only partially successful in challenging through objections, Maline suggested that Hauer’s statements to district attorney’s office investigators that reflected poorly on Erwin might have been induced from him because of his fear that if he resisted their line of questioning or the premises contained in those questions that they might arrest or charge him or both, and he was thus telling the investigators what they wanted to hear. To a degree, Hauer abetted Maline in this depiction with his answers that confirmed that line of rationale, even with its ironic implication that Hauer was at one point a professional practitioner of the same coercive interrogative technique.
Maline asked Hauer if Erwin “is still very much a trusted friend of yours?”
“Yes,” Hauer responded. When Maline asked if he was trustworthy, Hauer replied, “I’ve never known him not to be.” Hauer said that when Erwin was arrested and jailed, he offered to put up his bail.
Maline’s at least partially successful effort to convert Hauer into a defense witness brought Mandel roaring back during her redirect questioning. In a demanding tone, she asked, “Did you come to the DA’s office with an offer to provide information against Mr. Erwin?”
Hauer attempted to move away from the question. “Not entirely,” he said.
“Didn’t you tell them [the investigators] ‘I was extremely upset’?”Mandel asked.
After some hesitation, Hauer answered “Yeah, I was upset.”
Weren’t you upset Mr. Erwin had written your name on a crucial document without your permission?” Mandel asked.
“Yeah, I was upset,” Hauer conceded.
“Do you remember telling them you were in contact with Mr. Erwin because you wanted to keep your eye on him because he was using your name?” Mandel asked.
“I remember very little of that interview,” Hauer said.
With regard to his having made such an offer to the investigators, Hauer suggested he had done so as a ploy to see if they were targeting him as a suspect. “I wanted to gain as much as to give them,” he said.
To overcome Hauer’s difficulty in recollecting his statements, Mandell provided him with passages from the transcripts of his interviews with investigators, at last wringing from him the concession that he had expressed concerns about Erwin’s forthrightness.
“Do you recall a time when you were telling the district attorney’s investigators you had confronted Mr. Erwin about your signature? Do you recall telling them Mr. Erwin had not denied it when you asked about him signing your name?” she asked.
“I confronted Mr. Erwin,” Hauer then recalled. “I had brought it up in a conversation and I basically confronted him. He said, ‘Don’t you remember? We discussed this.’ And I said, ‘No, I wouldn’t have been involved in such a thing.’ I was extremely upset about that scenario.”
Mandel then asked Hauer to “Explain why you decided to continue a relationship with Mr. Erwin even though you were extremely upset.”
Hauer acknowledged he had come to the investigators as someone who had access to Erwin and had his confidence and that he “could get to the bottom of this and offer information.” Randalls, however, spurned using Hauer in that way, Hauer testified. “He made it clear I was not to be an agent of him in any way or form and I understood that,” Hauer said.
In a mini-tour-de-force of defensive damage control, Maline started out by retracing the testimony Mandel had elicited from Hauer, getting the witness to acknowledge that he had told the investigators that he had been “the victim of a crime” and that “I was pretty upset.” Maline then sought to disassemble the crime.
“You were upset because you thought Mr. Erwin had signed your name on a check?” Maline asked.
“I believe so,” said Hauer.
But Maline asserted that there was no fraudulently signed check, suggesting the signature had no significance. Maline stated. “It was some dopey piece of paper that doesn’t mean anything. When you found it was just that piece of paper your signature was on, did you then resume your relationship with Mr. Erwin?” he asked
“I don’t know that was the reason,” said Hauer. Nevertheless, he acknowledged, he had resumed his friendship with Erwin thereafter.
At one point, Maline did provoke a statement from Hauer that was of some assistance to the prosecution.
“Did Mr. Erwin tell you about his PAC?” Maline asked.
Hauer, who was supposed to be in charge of the political action committee, responded, “No.”
In his testimony with regard to Erwin’s PAC, Hauer reiterated a theme brought out in the testimony of others relating to the PACs established by Postmus, Kirk and Biane, in which some of those witnesses said they too had been unknowingly listed as officers with those political action committees or were involved with the PACS in such a way that Postmus, Biane and Kirk’s control or connection to those committees was hidden or obscured.
To a substantial degree, Hauer’s answers varied based upon whether he was being questioned by Mandel or Maline. While his testimony by extension impacts defendants Burum, Biane and Kirk, it had the most direct impact with regard to that portion of the case being prosecuted against Erwin.
Hauer’s testimony on Tuesday was followed by questioning of former assistant district attorney Clyde Boyd by both lawyers and Judge Michael Smith outside the presence of the jury. Tuesday’s testimony was the only courtroom activity in the case this week, as Judge Smith was absent due to illness on the remaining days of the week.

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