Colonies Partners Files $80 Million Suit Alleging Civil Rights Violations In Prosecution

The Colonies Partners development consortium headed by Jeff Burum yesterday filed a civil rights lawsuit in Riverside Federal Court against San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos and former state attorneys general Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris, other members of the prosecution team and witnesses involved in last year’s unsuccessful political corruption trial of Burum and three of the public officials he was accused bribing. The suit, which has as its plaintiff the company and none of the defendants who were prosecuted, seeks $80 million in damages.
According to the suit, both prosecutors and investigators in the criminal case disregarded or hid evidence vindicating the defendants. Furthermore, the suit alleges, prosecutors “fabricated evidence to prop up their case,” which alleged Burum blackmailed and extorted former supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane to vote in support of the county providing a $102 million payout to settle a lawsuit the Colonies Partners had brought against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio subdivision in Upland and that Burum then kicked back four separate $100,000 bribe payments to Postmus, Biane, former sheriff’s union president and Postmus political associate Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, the chief-of-staff to former supervisor Gary Ovitt, who had provided the third crucial vote in favor of the $102 million settlement.
Postmus in 2011 entered guilty pleas to conspiracy, bribery, conflict of interest, fraud, perjury and tax evasion charges relating to the 2006 vote to settle the case and his reception of $100,000 from Burum and the Colonies Partners the following year. He then turned state’s evidence and in April 2011 was the star witness before a grand jury that in May 2011 returned a 29-count indictment of Burum, Biane, Kirk and Erwin.
The case went to trial in January 2017. In May, Postmus testified, offering during his direct examination by the prosecution a version of events that supported the charges. Subsequently, however, under the withering cross-examination of defense attorneys he fell apart, supporting their suggestions that both the prosecutors and the investigators working for the district attorney’s office had exploited his vulnerable state brought on by his extensive use of methamphetamine and the legal charges against him, together with the terms of his plea arrangement which called for leniency in his sentencing in return for his cooperation. In this way, the suit alleges, the prosecution team planted false memories in Postmus’s mind and induced him to offer false testimony implicating the defendants. “Most egregiously, they [prosecutors and investigators] coerced Mr. Postmus into giving false testimony and leveraged his drug addiction to manipulate his memory,” the suit states.
In addition to Ramos, Brown and Harris, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope, Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandel, former assistant district attorney Jim Hackleman, former deputy attorney general Gary Schons, district attorney investigators Hollis “Bud” Randles and Robert Schreiber, county supervisor Josie Gonzales, former county counsel Ruth Stringer, and former assistant assessor Adam Aleman are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The suit was filed on behalf of the Colonies Partners by former federal judge Stephen Larson and his law partner, Jonathan Phillips. Larson was Burum’s lead defense attorney during the trial, which utilized two juries, one for Burum, Biane and Kirk, and another for Erwin. Presentation of evidence and testimony lasted nearly eight months. In late August, after both defenses had rested without calling any witnesses and less than two days of deliberating, the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk acquitted all three defendants of all of the charges remaining against them that had not previously been dismissed by the magistrate hearing the case, Judge Michael Smith. In September, Erwin’s jury reported it was “hopelessly deadlocked” with regard to all of the charges against him. Subsequently, upon the prosecution’s motion, all charges against Erwin were dismissed.
In the suit, Larson and Phillips assert “District attorney investigators… continued pursuing aggressive and illegal tactics. Defendants Randles and Schreiber elicited and even fabricated false information. Defendants Cope, Hackleman, Mandel, and Schons — on information and belief, supervised by defendants Ramos, Brown, and Harris — pushed the investigation to its predetermined outcome, and no one bothered to augment their zeal for retribution with even a shred of concern for truth and justice. Instead, investigators and prosecutors — including defendants Ramos, Cope, Hackleman, Randles, Schreiber, Brown, Harris, Mandel, and Schons — pursued a wrongful investigation and, ultimately, felony charges against Mr. Burum , despite ample evidence that they were meritless.”
According to the suit, “Defendant Aleman also conspired with one or more of the other defendants to initiate the wrongful investigation and prosecution. Beginning in 2008, defendant Aleman started supplying investigators and prosecutors with knowingly false information to initiate and encourage the criminal investigation against Mr. Burum. At the time, defendant Aleman himself was under investigation for various criminal conduct in the county assessor’s office. As defendant Aleman has since admitted, he had lied about Mr. Postmus’s drug use and sexuality, used campaign accounts as his own personal slush fund, physically destroyed county equipment to cover up his and Mr. Postmus’s misdeeds, altered public documents sought by the civil grand jury in their investigation of the assessor’s office, and lied under oath to that grand jury. Seeking to obtain a favorable plea deal, defendant Aleman claimed he had information about other criminal conduct in the county.”
According to the county, “The claims and accusations made by the Colonies Partners have no merit and the county and its officials will vigorously defend themselves against the false claims.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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