By Ruth Musser-Lopez and Mark Gutglueck
After six days of watching one of its key witnesses being savaged, each day progressively more viciously than the last, the prosecution in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case this week undertook to rehabilitate him and revive its effort to send Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, former Supervisor Paul Biane, one-time sheriff’s deputies union boss Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, who had been the chief of staff to ex-supervisor Gary Ovitt, to prison.
That witness, Adam Aleman, was at one time a rising star in the Republican Party and regional politics and government, a less luminescent but yet notable element of the Postmus constellation that had blinded and dominated San Bernardino County for the better half of the first decade of the Third Millennium. It all revolved around Bill Postmus, who in 2000 at the age of 29 was elected as the youngest member of the board of supervisors in San Bernardino County history, representing the vast desert portion of the county within the First Supervisorial District.
Defining himself as a rock-ribbed conservative Republican who sprouted from a Baptist and Pentecostal base in San Bernardino County’s Victorville/Baldy Mesa/Hesperia/Phelan/Pinon Hills/Wrightwood Bible Belt, Postmus wooed Republican Party stalwarts throughout the region with his clean cut appearance and right wing rhetorical flourishes. By 2002 he had acceded to the position of chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. In 2004, he was handily reelected supervisor and shortly thereafter was chosen by his fellow board members to serve as chairman of the board of supervisors, the youngest person to ever hold that position. At that point he bestrode San Bernardino County like a political colossus.
Already larger than life, Postmus moved to consolidate his power even further, constructing a political machine rivaling that of Tammany Hall. He had already formed a firm and fast alliance with Paul Biane, the Second District Supervisor who oversaw Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Western Fontana, Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Heights and Wrightwood, who was simultaneously the vice chairman of the county Republican Central Committee and the vice chairman of the board of supervisors. Postmus had further aligned himself with former Ontario Mayor Gary Ovitt, whom he had assisted in his successful run in the specially held 2004 race for Fourth District supervisor to permanently replace Fred Aguiar, who had departed upon being appointed head of the California Consumer Services Agency by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Postmus’ team included his own chief of staff, Brad Mitzelfelt, Victorville Councilman Bob Hunter, Hesperia Mayor Jim Lindley, previous Republican Central Committee Chairman Ed Laning, political consultant Michael Orme, Republican Central Committee Member Anthony Adams, Republican Central Committee Member and former Foothill Fire District Board Member and Chairman Dan Richards, then-Fontana Councilwoman and Republican Central Committee Member Acquanetta Warren, along with Republican Party operatives Anthony Riley and Mark Kirk. In 2004, the 33-year-old Postmus met Adam Aleman, then 21-years old, while the latter was working as the maître d’ at an Outback Steakhouse. Aleman had already evinced an interest in politics – Republican politics – by having worked on behalf of Elia Pirozzi in his unsuccessful run for the California Assembly in 2002. Postmus hit it off with Aleman and soon offered him a paying position with the county Republican Central Committee. Aleman took him up on the offer. A few months later, Postmus offered Aleman a second position as a field representative with his supervisor’s office.
In 2005, Postmus and Biane, who were already in solid control of the county Republican Party by virtue of their chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of the central committee and alliances with GOP office holders across the county, strengthened their grip further in a power play reorganization of the central committee. Using the pretext that far-flung 20,205-square mile San Bernardino County presented traveling distance challenges to the central committee members such that at times less than a quorum was present at their meetings, thus preventing them from tending to important issues impacting the party, Postmus and Biane arranged to empower the central committee’s executive committee, which consisted of Postmus and Biane and, with the exception of a single member, employees working in their offices, to assume the voting authority of the entire central committee. At that point, Postmus’ political power within the confines of San Bernardino County, where in the 2004 primary election countywide registered Republican voters had bettered their Democratic Party counterparts in turnout countywide 282,657 to 252,314, was entirely unfettered. Around that time, while Aleman was yet working for him as a field representative in his supervisor’s office, Postmus elevated him to the position of the executive director of the county Republican Party. Aleman was then only 22 years old.
The following year, 2006, Postmus declared he would seek to unseat the incumbent county assessor, Don Williamson, in that year’s election. Tapping into funding available through the Republican Party as well as donations from a host of entities with businesses in the county and project proposals subject to county approval, Postmus raised over $3 million for his assessor’s campaign – which still stands as a record for any electioneering effort for a San Bernardino County office. He entrusted the running of the campaign to Aleman, employing him as his campaign manager. In the June Primary against Williamson and two other candidates, Postmus polled 46.86 percent, falling just 3.14001 percent short of winning without having to move into a run-off that November. In that November’s final toe-to-toe showdown against Williamson, Postmus prevailed by a less than fully impressive margin, 52.62 percent to Williamson’s 47 percent and another .38 percent in write-in votes. Even before he took office in January 2007, Postmus made arrangements while he was still chairman of the board of supervisors to create a host of new positions within the assessor’s office. Upon assuming office, he reorganized the assessor’s staff, creating a second assistant assessor’s post where before there had been only one, and thirteen executive office positions that previously did not exist. He appointed Jim Erwin, the former deputy sheriffs’ union president who was then serving as that union’s executive director, as one of the assistant assessors. He initially sought to hire Paula Nowicki, who had been a senior analyst with his supervisorial office and was the wife of one of his political allies, former Hesperia Mayor Dennis Nowicki, as the other assistant assessor. When it turned out that Paula Nowicki had no education beyond a high school diploma, she did not get the job. Instead, the post, which paid $131,000 per year in salary plus $60,000 in benefits, went to Aleman, who had taken a single college course – ornithology – at that point. Aleman was previously set to assume the position of assessor’s office communications director, one of the 13 new executive positions Postmus had created for the office. Postmus installed in all 13 of those posts political appointees who had no experience with regard to the professional function of the assessor’s office.
Unbeknownst to the public at large, Postmus, despite his conservative Republican, traditional Christian family values façade, was a promiscuous homosexual who with almost daily frequency was engaging in drug-fueled sexual encounters with men he had never before met by means of an internet-based hook-up service, Adam 4 Adam. This proclivity had rendered him by 2005 hopelessly addicted to methamphetamine. Aleman, who was ostensibly being paid by the county first in his capacity as a field representative for Postmus when he was supervisor and then as assistant assessor, had taken on the actual role of his claviger – his praetorian, his protector, his custodian, his concierge, his watchdog, his escort, his protector, his baby sitter, his steward, his keeper, all in one. Officially, Aleman was Postmus’ aide-de-camp. In actuality, he had been entrusted with a key to Postmus’ house and he would arrive in the morning to awaken him and put him into the shower, chase his boyfriend or boyfriends from the evening before out of the house if he or they had not already left, hide any tell-tale signs of drug use including the drugs themselves or paraphernalia such as smoking pipes or syringes, help Postmus get dressed and then either send him to his scheduled rounds or drive him there himself and accompany him to the meetings and make certain that any materials or documents were on hand for reference. This effort to keep Postmus’ secret hidden almost failed spectacularly in the summer of 2006 during his electoral campaign for assessor, when an effort was made to have Postmus complete drug rehab in Yakima, Washington. This entailed an extended absence during which Postmus missed board of supervisors meetings and was unavailable for consultation during a devastating fire in the desert. Aleman fielded questions in Postmus’ place, posting emails or responses in his name and fibbing to the press, telling them that Postmus was in Wisconsin for the funeral of his grandmother. As time progressed and when Postmus transitioned into being assessor, the need for him to engage in one-on-one interactions with his constituents and other public officials decreased significantly from the demands that he had been under as supervisor. By that point he grew ever more reclusive during daytime, going for as long as a week or a week-and-a-half without coming into the assessor’s office, descending even further into the morass of drug addiction, gravitating toward huffing – using inhalants such as DVD cleaner, aerosols and solvents – to augment his binges, rendering himself even further out of the bounds of reality.
In the meantime, Aleman, completely unequipped to deal with the actual duties and responsibilities of being assistant assessor and the role of determining the value of property for taxing purposes, spent his time at the office engaging in political activity relating to promoting the Republican Party, potential or actual Republican candidates and Republican causes. He oversaw similar activity, including extensive postings to the GOP blogs Red County and Flash Report made by several of Postmus’ 13 political hirees at the office, a few of whom were Postmus’ boyfriends, at least on those occasions when those employees would show up for work. As early as the late spring of 2007, even before Postmus had marked the six month anniversary of his time in office as assessor, the press had picked up on the sheer number of emails on political topics having nothing to do with the assessor’s office and internet postings to blogs such as Red County and Flash Report emanating from Aleman and other assessor’s office employees during normal working business hours. By the early summer of that year, those and other anomalies relating to Postmus and the assessor’s office were a subject of discussion within county government and elsewhere. Before the summer had elapsed, a complaint about untoward activity in the assessor’s office had reached the county’s civil grand jury, and the public integrity unit of the district attorney’s office was notified. When investigators with the district attorney’s office began poking around the assessor’s operations, Aleman, hyperconscious of what they might find, panicked and destroyed the hard drive in one of the county laptops that had been issued to Postmus to prevent anyone from learning the extent of his misfeasance and malfeasance in office. When investigators subpoenaed office documents, Aleman instructed an office secretary, Wanda Nowicki, the daughter-in-law of Postmus’ political ally Dennis Nowicki, to alter the minutes of several assessor’s office’s executive staff meetings to prevent anyone reading them from detecting that the assessor’s office was a hotbed of illicit political activity. Aleman took the altered meeting minutes with him when he was called before the grand jury, proffering them to indicate that all was as it should be operationally in the assessor’s office under Postmus. Unbeknownst to him, however, Nowicki had retained a copy of the original minutes, which she had provided to the district attorney’s office. When Aleman was confronted with the original minutes, his duplicity was apparent and on June 30, 2008, the day the grand jury report containing the account of the political exploitation of the assessor’s office was released, Aleman was arrested and charged with six felony counts pertaining to the destruction/vandalism of government property, the alteration of public documents, falsification of public documents and perjury. In October 2008, through his attorney, Grover Porter, Aleman arranged to dialogue with the district attorney’s office with regard to cooperation in possible exchange for lenient treatment or a reduction in the charges against him or his sentence. In November 2008 he entered into a plea arrangement with prosecutors in which he entered guilty pleas to four charges, his sentence was put into abeyance and he agreed to cooperate by providing the district attorney’s investigators with information about the wrongdoing in the county he had knowledge of and to act as the district attorney’s investigators’ agent by surreptitiously recording his phone calls and conversations with others suspected of criminal wrongdoing, Postmus in particular.
While Aleman’s initial statements to the investigators pertained primarily to activity within the assessor’s office, during these exchanges with the investigators the major focus gradually moved to the November 2006 vote by the board of supervisors to confer a $102 million settlement on the Colonies Partners to settle a lawsuit that company had brought against the county and its flood control district over drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. Aleman related how after Postmus returned from a September 2005 trade mission to China during which Postmus and Jeff Burum, one of the two managing principals in the Colonies Partners, had a considerable degree of interaction, Postmus grew obsessive about settling the lawsuit, assuming from Biane the lead role toward that end. Aleman further related that when Postmus and Biane were unable to induce their board colleagues to support a settlement of the lawsuit on the terms Burum was demanding, Burum, through Jim Erwin, sought to extort Postmus and Biane. Aleman related that Erwin, who at that point was working as a consultant to the Colonies Partners to assist in reaching a settlement while he was yet employed as the executive director of the county’s sheriff’s deputies’ union, threatened to expose Postmus’ homosexuality and drug use and Biane’s personal financial difficulties to the public through the posting of mailers to hundreds of thousands of the county’s voters. Ultimately, those mailers, known as “political hit pieces,” were withheld, Aleman said, and after the 2006 election in which Postmus was elected assessor and Measure P, a countywide initiative sponsored by Biane to up supervisors’ annual salary from $99,000 to $151,000 per year was passed by the county’s voters, a divided board of supervisors at the end of November 2006 by a 3 to 2 margin with Postmus, Biane and supervisor Gary Ovitt voting in the affirmative, approved settling the litigation with the Colonies Partners for $102 million. Following the settlement and after Postmus had acceded to the position of assessor, the Colonies Partners between March and the end of June 2007 provided two $50,000 contributions to each of two political action committees Postmus had arranged for Aleman to set up, the Inland Empire PAC and the Conservatives For A Republican Majority PAC; a $100,000 donation to a political action committee, the Committee For Ethical Government, set up by Mark Kirk, who was Ovitt’s chief of staff; a $100,000 donation to a political action committee set up by Erwin, the Committee For Effective Government; and a $100,000 donation to a political action committee, the San Benardino County Young Republicans PAC, that had previously been set up by Biane’s chief of staff Matt Brown. The $100,000 donations to Postmus, Biane, Kirk and Erwin were thinly disguised bribes, Aleman said, which were kicked back to the recipients in return for the approval of the settlement.
Based upon Aleman’s information and further information developed by the investigators, the district attorney’s office stepped up its investigation of Postmus and others relating to the exploitation of the assessor’s office for political purposes. This coincided with Postmus’ implosion, hastened by his drug addiction and the exposure of his drug use when investigators in January 2009 served a search warrant at his Rancho Cucamonga condominium and found the drugs methamphetamine and ecstacy as well as smoking pipes and syringes. Two months later, Postmus resigned as assessor. Later that year, the district attorney’s office lodged charges against Postmus and others based upon their diversion of taxpayer funds and the public resources for partisan political use. Throughout this time, Aleman continued to maintain a close relationship with Postmus, recording more than 70 phone conversations between them and a handful of exchanges they had during face-to-face meetings, and passing along to the district attorney’s office more than 1,000 text message exchanges they had.
In May 2009, district attorney’s office investigators separately approached Kirk and Brown, threatening them with prosecution for their parts in what they said was the laundering of the bribe money provided to Ovitt and Biane by the Colonies Partners in the form of the $100,000 contributions to the Committee For Ethical Government and San Bernardino County Young Republicans PACs. Both were shaken. Brown forged an agreement with the investigators, agreeing to use a hidden microcassette recorder at his workplace to capture his conversations with Biane in an effort to obtain Biane’s acknowledgement of the bribery scheme. Kirk, however, refused.
In February 2010, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office made a joint criminal filing in which Postmus and Erwin were charged with involvement in a complex conspiracy, extortion, and bribery scheme related to the settlement of the Colonies Partners lawsuit against the county. Unnamed in that complaint were five unindicted co-conspirators described as Does One through Five. Based on information contained in the complaint and the descriptions of the charges and the alleged overt acts, Burum; his co-managing principal in the Colonies Partners, Dan Richards; Patrick O’Reilly, a public relations consultant who had worked with the Colonies Partners during its effort to reach the lawsuit settlement; Biane; and Kirk could be discerned as the five Does. Also described in the complaint were references at various points to an unnamed “confidential informant.” Both Postmus and Erwin entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them.
Some time after the charges were filed, a drug addled Postmus began reading the complaint and the accompanying investigative reports relating to the case provided to his attorney and recognized that Aleman matched up with the description of the confidential informant referenced in those documents. The once-close relationship between Aleman and his political patron ended. Similarly, in April 2010, Biane, or at least those around him, came to suspect that his chief of staff had been cooperating with the district attorney’s office. This led to a rather uncomfortable situation for Brown, who was subjected, he later claimed, to threats of retaliation, termination and worse along with continual harassment after his colleagues pieced together that he was cooperating with the district attorney’s office. Brown retained attorney Sanford Kassel to represent him and in May 2010, the matter became public and Brown was placed on administrative leave.
Within a month, Brown was transferred to the county recorder/auditor-controller office under Larry Walker, who agreed to install him as his second-in-command, i.e. as the assistant auditor-controller. In so doing, Walker ousted his longtime assistant and close associate Betsy Starbuck, who was ignominiously sacked after having served more than twenty years as Walker’s right hand woman, both when Walker was Fourth District supervisor, the position he held before he ran for auditor-controller, and as auditor controller. The displacement of Starbuck, who after more than eight years in the position of assistant auditor-controller practically ran the division, to accommodate the inexperienced Brown was widely perceived as something that was imposed on Walker by county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux and district attorney Mike Ramos as part of an effort to protect a witness seen as crucial to the prosecution of the Colonies settlement criminal case.
In March 2011, Postmus entered guilty pleas to 14 felony charges pertaining to both the scandal in the assessor’s office and the entirety of the charges leveled against him in the Colonies lawsuit settlement case filed against him in February 2010. He turned state’s evidence and in April 2011 went before a specially impaneled criminal grand jury formed to look into the Colonies lawsuit settlement matter. He was the primary witness in the troika of star witnesses that included Aleman and Brown. In his testimony, he essentially corroborated the narrative of events that Aleman had provided investigators. A refined version of that narrative became the indictment that the grand jury returned against Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk the following month, with the charges in the indictment against Erwin superseding the criminal charges filed against him the previous year.
After more than five years of pre-trial legal sparring between prosecutors and defense attorneys, the case went to trial on January 4 of this year. Brown’s testimony came in February and was less helpful to the prosecution than was anticipated, as the intervention of a decade between the events in question and his examination on the stand compromised, he said, his recollection. During much of the testimony that preceded and followed Brown’s, the prosecution, with some notable exceptions, found itself bogged down as the defense countered in no small measure by successfully dwelling, it seemed, on the Colonies Partners’ lawsuit against the county which underlies the criminal charges, almost as if the civil case were being relitigated, attempting to demonstrate that the suit against the county was meritorious and that the county had obstructed the Colonies Partners in moving ahead with its developmental agenda, insinuating into this a suggestion that the efforts to induce the members of the board of supervisors to settle the case were in some measure justified.
When Postmus took the stand on May 1, the trial had been dragging on for three days short of four months. During his first two days on the stand under direct examination by Supervising San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope he dramatically resuscitated the flagging case, testifying that while he and Burum were both in China in September 2005, Burum had lobbied him in an effort to obtain his support for the settlement of the lawsuit the Colonies Partners had brought against the county over flood control issues that delayed the completion of the Colonies Partners’ residential and commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. Postmus on direct examination said that in the latter half of 2006, Erwin, working on behalf of Burum, had threatened to expose his homosexuality and Paul Biane’s financial travails to get them to support the settlement. And Burum had promised to support him in either or both future political and business endeavors once the settlement was out of the way, Postmus said. He believed, Postmus said, the $102 million paid out to the Colonies Partners was “ridiculously more” than the development company was due as a consequence of the litigation but that the threats and promises of reward and the desire to put the whole thing behind him stampeded him into the settlement. Once the settlement was in place, Postmus testified, the Colonies Partners came through with two separate $50,000 donations to the political action committees he had control over. He affirmed the previous testimony by numerous witnesses who said he essentially commandeered from Paul Biane the role of the major champion for forging a settlement.
During their cross examination of Postmus, defense attorneys, particularly Jennifer Keller, one of the attorneys representing Burum, maneuvered to counter the damage Postmus had inflicted upon the defendants under direct examination, pressing hard during cross examination to demonstrate that nearly a decade of escalating methamphetamine use capped by the use of the drug ecstacy and inhalants had devastated his memory and left him pliable to suggestion. Keller drove home this last point by leading him again and again through a series of questions by which she wrung from him statements in support of the defendants which mitigated or contradicted aspects of his testimony under direct examination in some respects and came close to a recantation of it in others.
Thus, Aleman, who immediately followed Postmus to the witness stand, served as a pivotal witness. In Postmus’ role as supervisor and assessor, Aleman had been his aide-de-camp; in Postmus’ private life he had been his manservant. In this way, Aleman had a direct window on virtually every aspect of Postmus’ existence in 2006 and 2007. Consequently, he was used to impressive effect by Mandel to reinforce those damning elements of Postmus’ testimony.
Under cross examination by Keller and Erwin’s attorney Raj Maline, Aleman found himself obliged to expound on the level of criminality he had himself been involved in when he was working in the assessor’s office. This provided Keller and Maline with a forum to malign his character by an exposition of how fluidly he had flipped from covering up for Postmus to assisting the district attorney’s office in accumulating information that would convict his one-time boss. Keller and Maline highlighted contradictions in his various statements to investigators. Most of all, they suggested that Aleman was in such a desperate situation with regard to the criminal charges against him that he had spun a false tale of a criminal conspiracy relating to the Colonies lawsuit settlement incriminating Postmus and the current defendants because he could achieve leniency by creating a criminal case against bigger fish than himself.
When testimony resumed on Wednesday of this week, Maline picked up on where earlier attacks on Aleman had left off. He referenced inconsistencies in Aleman’s statements regarding the hit pieces that are at the center of the prosecution’s contention that Burum and Erwin blackmailed Postmus and Biane prior to the lawsuit settlement. Aleman acknowledged that he had told investigators on November 1, 2008 that he saw at least two mailers on Erwin’s computer at the sheriff’s deputies’ union hall, at least one targeting Biane and another relating to Postmus. Maline then pointed out that ten days later, on November 11, 2008, Aleman claimed only to have seen one, which pertained to Biane. Maline said that during the ongoing trial, on May 15, Aleman’s testimony touched only on hit pieces skewering Biane. Aleman said one of the mailers, which was intended to promote opposition to the pay raise initiative Measure P, attacked the board members collectively. “It was Mr. Postmus and Mr. Biane,” Aleman said. “My recollection is cloudy on that.”
Maline angled as to whether the hit piece attacking Postmus dwelt on drug use or homosexuality. “On Postmus, you said it involved drug issues,” Maline said.
“Yes sir,” Aleman responded.
“Did you see the actual image on the computer, or a printout?” Maline asked.
“I remember the computer, but I can’t remember if they were printed out or on the computer screen,” Aleman said. “That is vague to me.”
Maline cited Aleman’s testimony that he had seen hit pieces which utilized a young boy making an “L” sign on his head with the thumb and finger of his right hand and another that used a graphic of wadded up bills or rolls of money. There was some ambiguity in the questions over the use of the term “bills,” and it was not clear whether this referred to greenbacks or payment invoices. The latter is consistent with the theme of the hit piece[s] Aleman claimed to have seen relating to Biane’s alleged arrearages on his payments. According to the prosecution, the hit pieces were prepared but never actually mailed, having been used as a threat against Postmus and Biane. Maline, by showing actual mailers that were sent out that were vaguely consistent with Aleman’s description of the hit pieces – one utilizing a young boy forming the sign of an “L” on his forehead, which was opposed to the candidacy of Rancho Cucamonga City Council candidate Dieter Dammeier, and one against Measure P using the graphic of a roll of money – implied that Aleman either erroneously conflated issues or outright lied, and that no blackmail effort involving political hit pieces had taken place.
Nevertheless, Aleman headed Maline off.
“You recall rolls of money that were wadded up?” Maline asked.
“Yes,” responded Aleman. “That was the one that actually got mailed.”
Maline then displayed on the courtroom’s visual projectors an anti-Measure P mailer featuring rolls of currency.
“Now that I reflect, this is not the one that I saw on the [computer] screen,” Aleman said. “This is the one that got mailed out.”
Maline asked, “Did Mr. Biane ever see the mailer?”
“I don’t recall,” said Aleman.
“He didn’t see it in your presence?” Maline inquired.
“Not at all,” Aleman said.
“We’re you in any meeting where Mr. Biane was told about those?” Maline asked.
“I can’t recall a specific meeting,” Aleman said.
“Did Mr. Postmus see the mailers?” Maline asked.
“I don’t recall whether he saw them, but I went and told him right away,” said Aleman.
“Did you do so on your own, or were you told to [by Erwin]?” Maline asked.
“I don’t recall word for word, but either implied or direct, I was supposed to get the message back right away,” Aleman said.
Maline then reviewed testimony Aleman had given before the grand jury on April 27, 2011 to assert that Aleman had previously stated that he had been present when Biane was given warning about the mailers’ existence, something to the effect that “If you guys don’t get moving on the settlement, this is what is going to come. The next mailer was like, delinquent bills…”
Maline cited Aleman’s testimony on direct examination by Mandel on May 17, “He wanted me to deliver the message to Bill direct and what the ramifications were if things weren’t settled quickly.”
“The attack was on Biane, but the message was to be delivered to Mr. Postmus,” Maline said. “Yes,” said Aleman.
“In other words, Ms. Mandel asked you if the mailers you were asked to deliver to Bill were about Biane.” Maline said.
“Yes,” said Aleman.
“But here you are telling us a different thing, correct?” Maline asked.
“I think the nature of what I was supposed to deliver was the same,” said Aleman.
“But you said you were in the presence of Paul Biane…” Maline said.
“Yes, I saw that,” said Aleman.
“Ms. Mandel asked you …whose presence were you in when you saw these mailers,” said Maline. “‘Were you present when Mr. Biane [was told] or [was the message taken] to someone else.’ You said, ‘Yes, Mr. Brown.’”
“I took it to Matt Brown,” Aleman said, referencing Biane’s chief of staff.
“Now it’s Matt Brown,” Maline said, implying again that Aleman was lying.
“I can recall that situation,” Aleman said. “We rattled the cage. I just can’t recall the exact of how we delivered the message.” Aleman then asserted himself. “No, Jim Erwin did not show me the mailers in the presence of Matt Brown. That is not what I testified to. Mr. Erwin showed them to me, one-on-one. I didn’t take them back. I told them. I can’t recall if I told Mr. Biane directly. I vaguely remember when it became a big to-do in the office and it got everyone active.”
“Did the investigators ask if there were threats about exposing Mr. Postmus’ homosexuality?” Maline asked.
“Yes,” said Aleman.
“As you sit here today, do you recall any threat to Mr. Postmus to expose his homosexuality?” asked Maline.
“From who?” said Aleman.
“Anyone,” said Maline.
“Yes,” said Aleman.
“What did you tell the investigators about that?” asked Maline.
“I can’t recall,” said Aleman.
Maline delved into Aleman’s previous statements about private investigators bedeviling Postmus by shadowing him and parking in front of his house. Maline said that Aleman had told district attorney’s office investigators Hollis Randles and Bob Schreiber during his November 1, 2008 interrogation that he saw people sitting in a Ford in front of Postmus’ house and that they looked like Randles and Schreiber. Aleman made no mention of confronting those in the car during that interrogation but had later said he confronted someone digging through Postmus’ trash. “On direct examination you said that you went over to the car,” said Maline. “In November of 2008 you said that they drove off.”
“The exact steps are vague in my mind now,” said Aleman.
Aleman was lying again, Maline asserted. “You say these things and when you are not telling the truth and making things up, you forget,” he said.
“This is not made up,” said Aleman.
Maline spent nearly three-quarters of an hour going over and over the differing accounts of what Aleman had done with Postmus’ county-issued laptop computer, which Aleman was charged with and convicted of vandalizing. A county official said he had pried it open with a screwdriver to remove the hard drive. Aleman said he had not pried it apart but had unscrewed the bottom panel. He acknowledged he had made misrepresentations to the investigators early on – in March 2008 – in their inquires because at that point he was still seeking to protect Postmus, who, he said had instructed him to destroy the hard drive because it contained confidential information about his deliberative process. During a search of Aleman’s home by district attorney’s office investigators on May 22, 2008, Aleman told investigators he had given the hard drive he took out of the computer to Postmus, and that he subsequently retrieved it from Postmus and disposed of it in a dumpster. On November 11, 2008 Aleman told investigators he witnessed Postmus throw the hard drive into the trash at his Hesperia home. Maline pointed out that Aleman’s contradictory or false claims about what he had done to the laptop to investigators in November 2008 came after he had entered into a plea agreement with the prosecutor’s office and had committed to providing them with the truth. Aleman told Mandel on May 30 he destroyed the hard drive. On cross examination by defense attorney Jennifer Keller, Aleman said he gave the hard drive to Postmus.
Maline did not miss the opportunity to signal to the jury that Aleman cannot be trusted.
“For you, it doesn’t really matter what happened, does it?” Maline asked, which triggered a sharp objection from Mandel that was sustained by Smith.
Biane’s attorney, Mark McDonald, who has with only a few exceptions during the trial allowed the cross examination of witnesses to be handled primarily by Maline and the two main attorneys for Burum, Stephen Larson and Jennifer Keller, showed some rare animation, rising at once after Maline’s cross examination was concluded and querying Aleman with a series of rapid fire questions about the mockups of the hit pieces Erwin had displayed for him on his union office computer.
“After leaving Erwin’s office, you never saw them again?” McDonald asked.
Aleman said that was the case. McDonald asked Aleman why Erwin relied on him to indirectly convey the threat implied in the hit pieces to Postmus when he had contact with Postmus and could have done so directly.
“I think it was a passive-aggressive attempt to get a message to Bill,” Aleman said.
McDonald returned to Aleman’s tangled accounts of his destruction of Postmus’ laptop and the removal and actual disposition of its hard drive. Referencing that there are two juries hearing the case – one to pass judgment on Erwin and the other to decide the fate of Burum, Biane and Kirk – and that the question is of equal importance to both, McDonald asked, “Will you tell the jury, both juries sitting here, which version of the hard drive is true?”
Aleman said so much time had gone by that he could not remember.
When Kirk’s attorney, Peter Scalisi, inquired why, as Aleman had testified, Postmus was disturbed about Kirk taking a $20,000 consultation fee from the Alliance for Ethical Government PAC he had created and into which he had received the $100,000 contribution from Colonies Partners which the prosecution now alleges was a bribe paid to him in return for delivering Gary Ovitt’s vote in favor of the settlement, Aleman said Postmus was concerned it would “blow their cover” and betray to anyone paying attention that the Colonies Partners’ contributions were connected to the settlement. Kirk made a “direct pocketing” of the money, by which he said Kirk could be shown to be directly profiting from the settlement, Aleman said.
Beginning late Wednesday afternoon after the defense attorneys concluded their cross examination, California Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel sought to reestablish Aleman’s believability in the aftermath of Keller’s, Maline’s, McDonald’s and Scalisi’s onslaught. That effort continued Thursday morning.
First, Mandel sought to distinguish between the misrepresentations Aleman made prior to his arrest, which he acknowledges, and the account he has given since he entered into a plea arrangement with the prosecutors, which called for his cooperation with and providing accurate information to the district attorney’s office investigators and testifying truthfully.
Mandel elicited from Aleman that in the spring of 2008, he became aware the district attorney’s office was snooping around the assessor’s office when investigators walked into the office.
“After the first meeting, we realized Mr. Postmus and I were targets,” Aleman said.
Aleman was arrested on the last day in June 2008 and he did not begin his dialogue with the district attorney’s office until October, and he did not begin his official cooperation with the investigators until November 2008.
When he was first interrogated by the district attorney’s office’s investigators in March 2008 and then brought before the civil grand jury later that spring, Aleman was yet prevaricating.
“The first time you were concerned about being a suspect was in March of 2008?” Mandel asked. “Did you talk to Mr Postmus about it?”
“Yes,” said Aleman.
“Were you aware the investigation was ongoing at that time?” Mandel asked.
“At the beginning we thought it was civil grand jury doing their job and the…normal course of their business,” Aleman said. “When I got called, I realized that it was criminal nature that they were investigating.”
An issue of substantial importance to the case as it now stands is the relationship that existed between Aleman and Burum. Aleman testified that he was present at between six and twelve meetings between Postmus and Burum between January and June of 2006, during which Aleman claims Burum assured Postmus he would take care of him financially in terms of supporting him in future political or business endeavors once the Colonies lawsuit settlement was effectuated. Postmus, whose memory has been compromised by drug use and the passage of time, could recall only one or two meetings where Aleman was present at meetings he had with Burum. And the defense teed off on Aleman, attempting to and in some cases succeeding in tripping him up with regard to the details of those meetings, such as the meeting locations, getting him to waver with regard to whether the meetings took place at the El Torito and Acapulco restaurants in Upland and Montclair, respectively, as he at first recollected during his testimony in this trial, or the El Torito and Acapulco restaurants in Ontario, as he had stated to investigators more than seven years ago. He also claimed to have been present with Postmus at two meetings with Burum at the Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga. During her cross examination of him, Keller confronted him with the assertion that the clubhouse at the Red Hill Country Club, on the patio of which Aleman said those meetings took place, had been razed for renovations between the months of January and June 2006. The defense sought to portray Aleman as a minor personage within Postmus’ orbit with whom Burum would not have had any substantial interaction and around whom he certainly would not have been discussing with Postmus future monetary support, political or otherwise.
To counter defense assertions that Aleman was lying about his association with Burum, Mandel elicited testimony from Aleman that, while the district attorney’s office’s investigators were breathing down his neck in examining the political activity in the assessor’s office, Aleman received a phone call from Burum.
Mandel asked what Burum told him.
“He said he was a very good friend of the district attorney,” Aleman said, “and it was going to be a slap on the wrist and he was going to take care of it with [district attorney] Mike Ramos.”
“When did that phone call take place?” Mandel asked.
“Prior to the arrest, between 2007 and the time when the DA was investigating,” Aleman said. “It was deep in the investigation of the assessor’s office, when Mr. Postmus and I were targets. The exact date is vague to me. I am sure there are records because that conversation took place.”
Mandel then referenced proof in the form of phone records to show the phone call from Burum to Aleman had been made.
“Did you ever see transcripts of other evidence on the records of that conversation?” she asked.
“Not until Ms. Keller said I was lying in that conversation, so that was the first time I heard anything about that on the record,” he said.
Shortly thereafter, a sidebar conference with all of the lawyers – prosecutors and defense counsel – took place with Judge Michael Smith.
When Mandel resumed her redirect examination, it was established that the phone number Aleman was using at the time was 909 996 1115.
“With regard to the phone call you testified about, was that in that time frame during the assessor investigation?” Mandel asked.
“Yes,” said Aleman, noting it “was out of the ordinary.” He said that for him or Postmus to “receive a comforting phone call or reassuring phone call [from Burum] was uncommon after we moved over to the assessor’s office.”
Aleman also testified that the day after his arrest, on July 1, 2008, he received a phone call from Jim Erwin. Erwin, who had a falling out with Postmus and resigned as assistant assessor in October 2007, had gone to the district attorney’s office at that time, reporting on the improper use of government facilities for non-assessor-related purposes.
Aleman said Erwin advised him to go to the district attorney’s office and tell them about Postmus’ malfeasance. He said Erwin told him “to tell the truth,” which Aleman said is what he did.
“What was the nature of your relationship with Mr. Erwin at that time?” Mandel asked.
“Nonexistent,” Aleman said. “After he had left the assessor’s office he had distanced himself.”
“Did Mr. Erwin encourage you to talk to the district attorney’s office and tell the truth?” Mandel asked. “Did you understand that to be about the Colonies case?”
“He said, ‘Tell them everything you know, and be truthful,” Aleman said.
“So, was it your belief that Mr. Erwin was cooperating with the district attorney’s office?” Mandel asked.
“Yes,” said Aleman.
Mandel then established from Aleman that a secretary in the assessor’s office, Sheila Raines, controlled Postmus’ calendar and that Postmus’ scheduled meetings were what he called “mirrored” onto his BlackBerry communication device. Mandel then projected onto the courtroom’s visual screen a page from Postmus’ calendar showing that on July 25, 2006 a scheduled lunch meeting for Postmus, Burum and Brad Mitzelfelt, who was Postmus’ chief of staff, and Aleman for July 26, 2006 was entered. That date fell more than three weeks beyond the January-to-June 2006 timeframe in which Aleman had earlier testified he had been with Postmus during meetings with Burum. Mandel asked Aleman if he had any recollection of the meeting with Mitzelfelt and Burum. Aleman said he did not. Mandel did not produce any calendar entries indicating meetings involving Aleman and Burum during the January to June 2006 timeframe, though Aleman offered a statement that there were many “off-the-book” meetings he attended with Postmus and Burum. Mandel attempted to reference another calendared event that took place on September 9 at which Postmus, Burum and Aleman were present, but a defense objection prevented that item from being displayed or explored.
Mandel asked Aleman if he recalled meeting with Postmus and the Colonies Partners’ publicist, Patrick O’Reilly, at an El Torito restaurant on an unspecified date while negotiations on the lawsuit settlement were ongoing. “That is something I would have done,” said Aleman, “I don’t recall the specific event.”
Mandel went in a slightly different direction in seeking to uphold Aleman’s credibility when she asked him if he had discussed with O’Reilly what had occurred during a meeting involving Postmus, Burum, Erwin and O’Reilly at an Ontario hotel in October 2006. Aleman earlier testified the meeting took place at the Sheraton and that he had come there to provide some documents to Postmus, and Keller had taken him to task by pointing out that the meeting actually occurred at the Doubletree Hotel. Establishing Aleman’s meetings with O’Reilly took place shows he was in some fashion considered important to the support network around the Colonies Partners. Moreover, Mandel was seeking to show that despite his failure to recall granular detail with regard to events that took place over a decade ago, such as precise locations of meetings, that he nevertheless had a grip on the broad circumstances and his recollection of those events in general is reliable.
“So, after 2006, did you and Mr. O’Reilly have an independent relationship?” Mandel asked.
“Yes,” said Aleman, explaining that O’Reilly bid on two county contracts in the near aftermath of Postmus’ election as assessor, including doing the annual report for the assessor’s office and making the board of supervisors’ response to a critical civil grand jury report. Mandel wanted to know if Aleman had a “relationship, a friendship” with O’Reilly.
“An association,” Aleman said. “He is a very friendly guy, but I would not characterize our relationship as a friendship. Mr. O’Reilly and I had some cocktails, we would not go off together on a business trip, but we might have a side bar at political events, etc.”
“Was there anything else in 2006 that you worked with the Colonies Partners?” Mandel asked.
“There was a lunch meeting with Mr. Postmus and Mr. Dan Richards,” said Aleman. Richards and Burum were the two managing principals in the Colonies Partners.
“Was the Colonies lawsuit discussed at that meeting?” Mandel asked.
“Yes,” said. Aleman.
Mandel took on directly the suggestion that Aleman was considered too much of a lightweight to be involved in the meetings between Postmus and Burum, and the assertions of the defense that he was not present when Postmus and Burum got down to brass tacks.
“What was your relationship with Mr. Postmus that you were [invited to the meetings with Burum]?” Mandel asked.
“My relationship was that due to his drug use, he had an inability to get from point a to point b,” Aleman said. “He also wanted the company of someone political, trusted, with a surface level knowledge of politics in the community. I tagged along.”
Aleman said he was not much of a participant in the discussions, which he said were “maybe 85 percent between Mr. Postmus and Mr. Burum.”
Mandel revisited the subject of the Red Hill County Club and the meetings Aleman said he attended there with Postmus and Burum. Alluding to Keller’s suggestion that the club house had been torn down throughout the time Aleman said those meetings occurred, Mandel asked, “When you were interviewed in 2008, at that time when you began to talk about these meetings, did you recall then that it was under construction?”
“I remember I had meetings with Mr. Burum at the Redhill Country Club,” he said. “On the patio. The specifics are vague. We did have a meal there.”
“Do you recall any temporary structures on the property?” Mandel asked.
“I can’t recall,” Aleman said.
Mandel then took up with Aleman’s mistaken assertion in his earlier testimony that the sheriff’s deputies’ union, known by its acronym SEBA, opposed Biane’s Measure P. Documentation was produced to show that SEBA had donated $5,000 to the Yes on Measure P Campaign. Aleman acknowledged the error. Mandel did, however, produce for Aleman to examine a piece of electioneering material SEBA sent out in the fall of 2006. Known as a slate mailer, it listed the candidates and measures supported by SEBA in the then-upcoming election. While the slate mailer did endorse Proposition 83, also known as Jessica’s Law, and Proposition 90 calling for limits on eminent domain, it did not list an endorsement for any other initiative, including Measure P.
When Mandel asked Aleman what that meant, Aleman said Erwin “was dangling the endorsement over the heads of the supervisors, particularly Mr. Biane, because it was his initiative he was pushing, and Mr. Erwin had the financial means to get the message out due to his position as president of SEBA.”
Mandel asked about Maline’s suggestion from last week that Aleman was enabling and even encouraging Postmus in his drug use because that enhanced Aleman’s power. She asked him what the extent of his power was in 2006.
“It was just over his campaign,” Aleman said, his reference being to his serving as the campaign manager for Postmus’ electioneering effort for assessor.
Mandel asked about a statement Aleman made to the effect that “Bill is 75% there and 25% high all the time.”
“I meant that a quarter of the time he was incapacitated due to drug use.” Aleman said.
Mandel then gave Aleman a second bite at the apple to answer a question Maline had addressed to him during cross examination, demanding to know why, when he was surreptitiously recording his conversations with Postmus, he had shied away from directly asking about whether the donations Burum made to the political action committee were bribes.
“That would have raised a major red flag,” Aleman said. “Mr. Postmus would have immediately suspected I was cooperating with investigators if I had broached on those terms,” Aleman said.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez and Mark Gutglueck