Aleman, Key Colonies Trial Witness, Given 6 Month Sentence

Adam Aleman, who parlayed the crush that former supervisor Bill Postmus had on him to wangle an appointment as assistant San Bernardino County assessor when he was 23 years old and then amidst the series of corruption scandals that enveloped Postmus turned state’s evidence to become the linchpin in what proved to be an only partially successful prosecution of the Colonies Lawsuit Public Settlement Bribery Case, was himself sentenced to six months in jail today.
Postmus, who at that time had ascended the San Bernardino County political ladder to simultaneously become the chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, met the 21-year-old Aleman in 2004 when the latter was a maitre’ d at the Outback Steakhouse in Upland. Postmus, a closeted homosexual particularly fond of young Hispanic men, took an instantaneous shine to Aleman, offering him a position on his supervisorial staff. Later, as the leader of the Republican Party in San Bernardino County, Postmus arranged to make Aleman, despite his youth, the executive director of the Republican Central Committee.
Aleman had a major role as both the campaign manager and assistant campaign manager of Postmus’ successful 2006 electoral effort to become county assessor, what was then and remains the most expensive political campaign in San Bernardino County history. Upon his election, Postmus arranged to increase the number of assistant assessor positions in the office from one to two, and then installed Aleman and another of his political allies, former county sheriff’s deputies’ union president Jim Erwin, into the assistant assessor posts. Aleman was given the appointment despite having no real estate or property appraisal experience. Nor did he possess a college degree.
Postmus staffed the assessor’s office’s administrative echelon with another eleven political appointments, including Republican Party functionaries, individuals who had worked on his campaign, political and personal associates, friends and boyfriends, none of whom had any experience or expertise with regard to the assessor’s office’s function. Many of those individuals put on the public payroll showed up for work only sporadically or not at all. Few engaged in anything remotely approximating the work of assessing property for taxing purposes. Rather, several utilized the office for political activity, promoting Republican candidates and issues.
Among the most energetic in the partisan exploitation of the assessor’s office was Aleman, who typically busied himself with assisting Republican office holders or hopefuls, as well as making continuous postings on Republican Party-affiliated blogs such as Red County and Flash Report. Postmus, who had developed a methamphetamine addiction, was sliding further and further into the morass of drug use. After the district attorney’s office began looking into irregularities surrounding Postmus and the assessor’s office in general, part of its probe extended into the partisan exploitation of the office’s personnel, facilities, authority and equipment. Aleman was at once a prominent suspect in this regard. A grand jury was impaneled and when Aleman was summoned to go before it, he engaged in a series of actions to obstruct investigators in their efforts, destroying a county-issued laptop computer’s hard drive, ordering a secretary to alter the minutes of the assessor’s office’s executive staff meetings to reflect that some of Postmus’ political appointees were actually engaging in work relevant to the assessor’s office’s function, presenting doctored documents to investigators and the grand jury, and then perjuring himself when he was testifying before the grand jury. On June 30, 2008 Aleman was arrested and charged with a multitude of felonies.
In October 2008, Aleman’s attorney, Grover Porter, initiated a dialogue with the district attorney’s office, making an overture to the effect that his client would cooperate with the DA’s office and its investigators in helping them explore a wider range of wrongdoing within the assessor’s office and the county governmental structure in general. The following month, the district attorney’s office assented to having its investigators work with Aleman, who provided them with information and agreed to surreptitiously record his conversations with a number of people in an effort to gather hard evidence to support further potential prosecutions. In doing so, Aleman betrayed his mentor and patron, Postmus.
Beyond opening up about the baldly partisan political nature of the activity within the assessor’s office, Aleman regaled investigators with what he described as a deep-rooted extortion and bribery conspiracy implicating Postmus, Erwin, then-county supervisor Paul Biane, then-county supervisor Gary Ovitt, Colonies Partners managing principals Jeff Burum and Dan Richards, Colonies Partners public relations consultant Patrick O’Reilly, Postmus’ political associate and business partner Dino DeFazio, as well as Matt Brown and Mark Kirk, who were the chiefs of staff to Biane and Ovitt, respectively.
One of the last major votes that Postmus participated in as supervisor after his election as assessor but prior to his being sworn in to that post in January 2007 occurred on November 28, 2006 when he joined with Biane and Ovitt in approving a $102 million payout to the Colonies Partners. Referencing that vote, on which supervisor Josie Gonzales and then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger were dissenters, Aleman told investigators that the vote was preceded by efforts by the Colonies Partners to coerce, threaten and blackmail Postmus and Biane. The Colonies Partners had sued the county and its flood control district in 2002 over storm water drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. By 2005 and then into 2006, Burum was increasing the pressure on the board of supervisors to settle the lawsuit, Aleman said, by using Erwin to threaten to expose Postmus’ homosexuality and drug use and Biane’s precarious financial state in which he was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. After the trio of Postmus, Biane and Ovitt voted to confer the $102 million settlement on the Colonies Partners, Aleman intimated, the Colonies Partners had delivered kickbacks to Postmus and Biane for having voted in favor of the settlement, as well as to Mark Kirk for his part in influencing Ovitt to support it. Erwin, too, was similarly rewarded, Aleman reported. He said that the bribes – $100,000 each – had been laundered to the recipients in the form of donations made to political action committees Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Kirk had either set up or controlled. In the case of Biane, Aleman said, the political action committee that was the recipient of the bribe money, the San Bernardino County Young Republicans, had been set up by Matt Brown, Biane’s chief of staff.
After investigators verified that the Colonies Partners had between March 2007 and the end of June 2007 provided two political action committees set up by Aleman and DeFazio for Postmus – the Inland Empire Political Action Committee and Conservatives for a Republican Majority – with two separate $50,000 contributions, that the San Bernardino County Young Republicans had indeed received a $100,000 contribution from the Colonies Partners during the same time frame, that Erwin had created a political action committee, Committee for Effective Government, which received a $100,000 check from the Colonies Partners, and that during the same span a committee Kirk had set up, the Alliance for Ethical Government, likewise received $100,000 from the Colonies Partners, the investigators began to look into Aleman’s allegations in earnest. By February 2010, that investigation had proceeded to the point that the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the California Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against Postmus and Erwin, charging them with conspiracy, extortion, bribery, misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, fraud, perjury, and income tax evasion in relation to the settlement and the political action committee donations that followed it. Contained in the criminal complaint against them were descriptions of five uncharged and unnamed co-conspirators who were identifiable as Burum, Richards, Biane, Kirk and O’Reilly.
Initially, both Postmus and Erwin entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them. In March 2011, however, Postmus, whose political career had imploded two years previously when he was arrested for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, entered guilty pleas to 14 felony counts and one misdemeanor drug possession charge. He turned state’s evidence and in April 2011 served as the star witness before a grand jury, which in May 2011 returned a 29-count indictment naming Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk. For nearly six years there was extensive pre-trial sparring between the prosecutors and defense attorneys in which some of the charges were thrown out by the trial court, and the matter was appealed twice to the appellate court and twice to the California Supreme Court, with some of the dismissed charges remaining dismissed and others being reinstated. The matter went to trial beginning last January 4 and continued until September, by which point Burum, Biane and Kirk were acquitted of all of the remaining charges against them and a separate jury hearing the case against Erwin hung on all of the charges against him. On a motion by the prosecutor’s office, the judge hearing the case, Michael Smith, dismissed the charges against Erwin.
Though Aleman and Postmus entered guilty pleas as part of their arrangements with prosecutors in, respectively, 2009 and 2011, their sentences have been continually deferred, as the degree of their cooperation with prosecutors was made a factor in the sentencing recommendations the prosecution is to make. Judge Smith, as the judge in the cases against Aleman and Postmus, has had the benefit of seeing for himself their testimony in the trial of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk.
Aleman appeared with his attorney, Grover Porter, before Judge Smith in San Bernardino Superior Court today for his sentencing. Deputy district attorney Lewis Cope, who prosecuted Postmus, Burum, Biane, Erwin, Kirk and Aleman, told Judge Smith that he believed Aleman complied with the terms and conditions of his plea agreement, which required that he give complete, adequate, fair and true testimony at trial. Porter emphasized that Aleman had lived up to his end of the bargain with prosecutors, asserting that the felonies he had pleaded to – two felony counts of theft, destruction, alteration, or falsification of a public document, one felony count of presenting a false claim to a public board or officer, and one felony count of vandalism – should be reduced to misdemeanors. Cope did not object to the request.
Smith found Aleman to have complied with the terms and conditions of his plea agreement, albeit slightly exaggerating, or embellishing his narrative, on the witness stand. Smith granted the motion for reducing the charges and sentenced Aleman to six months in jail, which is to be served as straight time without the possibility of early release. Nor is Aleman to be permitted to do his time only on weekends or in a work release program.
Judge Smith said that Aleman “committed some very serious offenses” which compromised the “public trust and integrity of county government.” As such, Judge Smith said, “There has to be consequences.”
Smith entered an order that Aleman surrender to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga to begin serving his sentence on January 24.
One of those Aleman testified against decried the six month sentence as too lenient.
Edward Barrerra, the spokesman for Jeff Burum, told the Sentinel, “Adam Aleman looted the assessor’s office, admitted to committing multiple felonies, admitted to perjuring himself before the grand jury, and was caught in multiple lies in the Colonies criminal trial, all at a cost of millions and millions of wasted county taxpayer dollars. For all that, he gets a slap on a wrist. This furthers the outrageous injustice against Mr. Burum and cries out for reform in our justice system and the removal of Mike Ramos, our supposedly ‘anti-corruption’ district attorney.”
Also appearing in court on Friday was the last defendant in the case growing out of the Colonies lawsuit settlement, Dino DeFazio. DeFazio came before Judge David Mazurek for a pretrial hearing. DeFazio is charged with six felony counts of perjury stemming from testimony he provided to a grand jury in October 2009 in which he said that Postmus was not involved in the operation of the Inland Empire Political Action Committee and that he, as the chairman of the committee, along with Hesperia developer Mike Gallagher and Hesperia businessman Jeff Bentow called all the shots with regard to the expenditure of the committee’s funds.
According to district attorney’s office investigator Hollis Randles, Bentow and Gallagher disputed DeFazio’s claim. Bentow had no knowledge that he was listed as a board member of the Inland Empire Political Action Committee, according to Randles. Gallagher was similarly unaware that he was serving in the capacity of vice chairman of the committee and said he had not taken part in husbanding its sources of revenue or directing its expenditures, according to Randles.
The upshot of DeFazio’s testimony was that Postmus was not involved in the Inland Empire Political Action Committee.
Taking DeFazio, who was bound over for trial in February 2012, before a jury at this point is a mixed bag for prosecutors. Postmus has acknowledged that he had greater control of the political action committee than DeFazio let on. However, during the trial this year, Aleman testified that he had doled money from the committee’s account out in accordance with Postmus’ dictates, but it is unclear that DeFazio knew Aleman was acting on Postmus’ behalf, though at that point it was a given to people in the know that Aleman was a surrogate for Postmus. Testimony potentially of help to DeFazio emerged during the trial when Aleman stated that on occasion he had masqueraded as DeFazio in communicating with the bookkeeper/treasurer for the Inland Empire Political Action Committee, Betty Presley, in directing expenditures from the committee. Moreover, Gallagher, a likely witness against DeFazio, died in August.
Mazurek continued DeFazio’s hearing until January 26, indicating there was a prospect the case would be resolved with negotiations between prosecutors and DeFazio’s attorney, Rick Ewaniszyk, short of trial.

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