Postmus Released From Prison 29 Months Early

Bill Postmus, whose meteoric rise to the apex of San Bernardino County power and politics was unrivaled by that of any other individual in county history, only to be exceeded by the methamphetamine-fueled rapidity of his dramatic plunge into ignominy, has been released from prison, after serving less than nine months of the three year sentence handed down to him in November 2018.
On November 15, 2018 Judge Michael A. Smith had sentenced Postmus in accordance with the judicial discretion set forth in a guilty plea Postmus had entered more than seven years previously, in March 2011, to 14 felony counts and a single drug possession misdemeanor. In the finalization of his conviction, Smith had confirmed four of those 14 felony convictions.
Six of those original felony convictions related to Postmus’s action during the fewer than 26 months he served in the capacity of county assessor. The other eight involved criminal activity perpetrated while he was a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, specifically in the final two years when he was on that panel as its chairman.
As assessor, Postmus utilized his virtually unchecked authority to expand the office’s executive echelon, creating a second assistant assessor’s post whereas under his predecessors there had been one assistant assessor’s position. Postmus had by fiat or administrative prerogative also created several other lucrative assignments that did not previously exist in the office. Shortly after his installation as assessor, he filled 13 of the highest ranking positions in the office with his political associates and boyfriends, virtually none of whom knew anything about real estate or assessing the value of property for taxing purposes.
Many of his political appointees engaged in little or no work in return for the sinecures and paychecks they were provided, with some rarely showing up at the county office where they were employed. Most of the others who did report to their workstations carried out activities that had nothing to do with assessing property but rather engaged themselves in partisan political activity, utilizing the county’s facilities, equipment and assets for promoting selected candidates for political office.
The district attorney’s office’s investigation into partisan political activity being carried out from county facilities under Postmus’s stewardship of the assessor’s office led to indictments of and charges filed against several of his staff members. Adam Aleman, a 23-year-old former head waiter whom Postmus had befriended and rewarded with an appointment to the position of assistant assessor, played a major role in the investigation after he was caught in several criminal acts relating to the misuse of government property. Aleman agreed to secretly record his interactions with Postmus and testify against him and others. Aleman’s cooperation with prosecutors matured into charges against Postmus himself and further revelations about Postmus’s engagement in graft during his tenure as a member of the board of supervisors, when Aleman was working for Postmus as a field representative.
That chapter of the scandal occurred while Postmus was not merely the chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors but also while he was the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee.
Postmus’s position at the head of county government in his capacity as chairman of the board of supervisors and his image as a rockribbed pro-law enforcement Christian and family values-oriented conservative Republican put him into a position in which he was vulnerable to blackmail, given his closeted homosexuality and what was at first his casual recreational and then later around-the-clock compulsive use of methamphetamine. A number of entities with business before the county board of supervisors exploited their knowledge of his proclivities to extort him into supporting them or their companies, unions, projects or proposals with his votes as supervisor.
Postmus’s final conviction and sentencing last November had been delayed through the intervening time because an element of the plea bargain he entered into in 2011 called for Postmus cooperating with prosecutors in bringing to justice others who had been caught up in the depredations, violations of public trust and crimes he had acknowledged in his admission of guilt. Principal among those crimes was his admission that he had received a bribe from Rancho Cucamonga-based developer Jeff Burum to vote, in November 2006 in one of his last actions during his six-year stint as a county supervisor, to approve a $102 million payout to Burum’s company, the Colonies Partners, to settle a lawsuit that company had lodged against the county over drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northwest Upland.
Postmus’s testimony in April 2011 before a grand jury, a month after he entered his guilty plea, provided much of the basis for that grand jury’s issuance of a 29-count indictment of Burum, former Postmus political associate and sheriff’s deputies union president Jim Erwin, Postmus’s one-time colleague on the board of supervisors, Paul Biane, who had joined with him in the vote to approve the lawsuit settlement with the Colonies Partners, and Mark Kirk, who had been the chief of staff to the other supervisor, Gary Ovitt, who had voted with Biane and Postmus to approve the $102 million settlement. The trial for Burum, Erwin, Biane and Kirk was delayed five-and-a-half years until it began in January 2017, thereafter lasting eight months.
Postmus was a key witness for the prosecution in that trial, testifying over the course of two weeks in May 2017. Under direct examination by Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope, Postmus testified that Erwin, who was then working as a consultant to Burum and the Colonies Partners, had blackmailed and extorted him into voting in support of the settlement by threatening to expose his homosexuality and drug use, and that over the course of the roughly seven months after the settlement was made, he, Erwin, Biane and Kirk had been rewarded with $100,000 each in the form of donations made to them by Burum through the Colonies Partners to political action committees each of the four had set up for themselves and controlled. However, under cross examination by one of the attorneys representing Burum, Jennifer Keller, Postmus went sideways, indicating that he just might have been led into implicating himself, Burum and the others in the scheme by aggressive investigators with the district attorney’s office who had exploited his vulnerabilities, in particular his drug-addled and highly suggestible state, to plant false ideas in his mind that he had then recounted to them during further interrogations, before the grand jury and under Cope’s direct examination. Ultimately, Burum, Biane and Kirk were acquitted of the charges against them and the jury hearing the case against Erwin deadlocked and was unable to return a unanimous verdict.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 trial, over which Judge Michael A. Smith presided, Postmus himself came before Judge Smith, before whom he had pleaded guilty in 2011, for sentencing. When Smith gave an indication that he was contemplating sentencing Postmus to two years in state prison, Postmus, having anticipated a less stiff sentence, sought to withdraw his pleas pertaining to his involvement in the Colonies lawsuit settlement matter as well as the malfeasance in office he admitted to while serving as county assessor after his election to that post in 2006. In a motion filed on Postmus’ behalf, his attorney, Jeffrey Lawrence, had asked Judge Smith to vacate his client’s guilty pleas and grant him a trial in which a jury would hear the cases against him. After six days of testimony in November 2018 that included Postmus taking the witness stand along with his previous lawyers, Richard Farquhar and Stephen Levine, Judge Smith denied the motion to rescind the plea on November 14, 2018. The following day, November 15, Lawrence presented an oral argument that Postmus’s crimes were de minimis in nature and that he deserved no prison time and either little jail time or immediate probation. Supervising California Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel countered that Postmus had conspired with others to defraud the public and divert over $100 million in taxpayer money to his co-conspirators and that he was so steeped in a culture of corruption that he did not recognize he was being bribed when he was rewarded by the recipient of the $102 million with a $100,000 political donation for doing so.
Judge Smith, after making a finding that Postmus had cooperated with prosecutors in anticipation of a lenient sentence by testifying truthfully before the grand jury and under direct examination at trial but had knowingly falsified his testimony upon cross examination while feigning memory loss and had therefore failed to live up to the terms of his plea bargain, sentenced him to three years in state prison. Though the prosecution wanted Postmus incarcerated at once, Smith granted him 15 days to get his affairs in order, requiring that he report to the courthouse at 8:30 on November 30, 2018. Postmus did so, and was whisked away into confinement at that time.
Postmus’s descent to the status of a convicted felon was an epic fall. In 2000 he was elected to the board of supervisors at the age of 29, making him, after Minor Cobb Tuttle in 1862, Norman Taylor in 1855, Robert McCoy in 1861, John C. Turner in 1893 and Gus Skropos in 1985, the sixth youngest county supervisor in San Bernardino County history. Four years later, in 2004, he became the second youngest chairman of the county board of supervisors after John C. Turner in 1895. That year he also became the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, a perch from which he had control over the purse strings of the local GOP’s campaign war chest and held tremendous sway in determining who was elected to an overwhelming number of political offices in the county. In 2006 he expended more than $2 million in what yet remains the most expensive political campaign in county history when he successfully challenged the incumbent county assessor, Don Williamson, thereby acceding to the most powerful taxing position in San Bernardino County.
He had been the single most powerful political entity in San Bernardino County during his heyday, a virtual kingmaker.
Before his sentencing, Postmus and his attorney had held out some hope that he might be allowed to serve his time in county jail. Ultimately, however, because of his three-year sentence, he was consigned into the California state prison system.
By late December, Postmus was housed at North Kern State Prison, a medium-security all-male prison facility located in Delano. At the time Postmus was there, it housed over 5,000 inmates, which is more than 200 percent of its design capacity of 2,447 when it initiated operation in 1993. More than 3,400 of the inmates at North Kern were housed in the reception center, awaiting transfer to another state prison and apart from the close to 1,600 permanent or mainline inmates in a separate part of the prison. Inmates are separated by security and custody levels upon arriving at North Kern. North Kern is considered a reception center for incoming inmates who are not destined to remain there for the entirety of their sentences. Transitory inmates remain there three to four months while their criminal and health records, physiological and psychological makeup and social needs are assessed and they are assigned elsewhere.
By late this spring, efforts on Postmus’s behalf and internal prison system evaluations led to his having been placed on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Alternative Custody Program’s candidacy list.
The nonviolent nature of his crime, his lack of further criminal involvement, his behavior while incarcerated and his psychological evaluation qualified him for serving the remainder of his sentence outside of lockup.
This summer, Postmus was released, conditional upon his wearing an ankle monitor, traveling no further than 50 miles from his registered place of residence, maintaining a curfew, reporting regularly to his parole officer and being subject to random drug screening. The Sentinel has learned he is residing with this sister in Wrightwood.
Postmus is known to be involved in political activity through a Wyoming-based company he founded, Mountain States Consulting Group. His conviction on a governmental conflict of interest charge prohibits him from seeking or holding elected office. He is not, however, barred from engaging in political activity such as fundraising and lobbying.
Mark Gutglueck

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