By Mark Gutglueck
Former Sheriff John McMahon exited as San Bernardino County‘s highest-ranking law enforcement officer earlier this year upon being presented with overwhelming evidence that former Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Bill Postmus had successfully manipulated him and his department into action that was lining the pockets of a marijuana cartel controlled by Postmus and his associates.
That cartel, through an out-of-state entity set up by Postmus, has laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars to a myriad of public officials throughout the county, those associated with it have acknowledged. A significant portion of those payoffs, in the form of disclosed campaign contributions as well as ones hidden in a variety of forms, have gone to politicians in the cities of San Bernardino, Adelanto, Needles, Hesperia and Barstow, where marijuana and cannabis-related commercial establishments have been or are in the process of being permitted and licensed. Simultaneously, Postmus is spreading those bribes around to members of the board of supervisors and politicians in several county cities, where commercial cannabis and marijuana-related activity is not yet permitted but where the cartel and those politicians it is greasing have designs to liberalize regulations that will allow the cartel Postmus represents to set up a monopoly or near monopoly within the next two-to-five years.
Sources close to McMahon say that the former sheriff was taken in by Postmus’s show of religiosity. Expressing piety was a chapter in Postmus’s original political playbook, which he successfully utilized in his maiden campaign for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2000, when he was 29 years old. Boldly, on the strength of his having volunteered and worked for Republican Assemblyman Jim Brulte, Republican Assemblywoman Kathleen Honeycutt, and Republican Assemblyman Keith Olberg, as well as his status as one of the founding members of the High Desert Young Republicans, Postmus took on incumbent First District County Supervisor Kathy Davis, also a Republican, in that race.
A key element of Postmus’s campaign was the support that came his way from five of the eight largest churches in the High Desert, a Pentecostal and two Baptist congregations in Victorvillle and two Baptist houses of prayer in Hesperia. The preachers at all five were believers in Christian denominational political action, and they would not hesitate in letting their faithful know who among the candidates seeking office at any given time were worthy of support and who were not. Postmus made a point, as the 2000 election was approaching, of putting in an appearance during Sunday service, sometimes at three different churches from early morning to early afternoon, depending on the time of worship at each. The ministers did not hold back, and during their sermons and homilies as well as in between their sermons and homilies, sometimes with Bill Postmus present in any one of the first three rows and sometimes with him attending elsewhere, the subject of the upcoming election would be brought up. The worshipers should search their hearts, they were besought, and vote for the person Jesus would cast his ballot for. The message was clear: that candidate was not the liberal-leaning Kathy Davis.
Despite her GOP affiliation, from the time she was elected to the board in 1996, Davis had played political footsie with the two Democratic supervisors on the panel, Jerry Eaves and Larry Walker, and her other liberal Republican board colleague, Jon Mikels.
Postmus, assisted by his electioneering team, represented himself as a rock-ribbed conservative, family values Republican. With his clean-cut, All American youthful demeanor, which made him look like the grandson every Republican grandmother in America would love to claim as her own, together with his pro-law enforcement, anti-abortion, let’s-maintain-a-strong military stance, Postmus trounced Davis, a former Apple Valley mayor.
Having pulled off that coup, Postmus arrived in San Bernardino, the sixth youngest supervisor in county history, after Minor Cobb Tuttle in 1862, Norman Taylor in 1855, Robert McCoy in 1861, John C. Turner in 1893 and Gus Skropos in 1985. In office, Postmus proved uncommonly successful, handily achieving reelection in 2004, at which point he was chosen by his colleagues as board chairman, making him the second youngest person to hold that honorific after after John C. Turner in 1895. At the same time, he was voted in as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. At the age of 33, he was the premier political entity in 20,105-square mile Republican-dominated San Bernardino County, reigning over a dominion geographically larger than Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware combined. As the leader of San Bernardino County’s Republicans, he intensified fundraising efforts on behalf of the party’s candidates and causes, succeeding in his stated goal of keeping the Democrats and liberalism at bay throughout the area, with the lone exception of the county’s Central Valley and its cities of Fontana, Rialto, Colton and western San Bernardino and their heavily blue-collared and union-affiliated populations.
Of note is that as supervisor, Postmus was, as were his supervisorial colleagues, hard-edged in the rejection of requests by county residents for the county to allow, under the auspices of the Compassionate Use Of Marijuana Act passed in the form of Proposition 215 by California’s voters in 1996, medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within the county. Mindful that the vast majority of the Republican voters who had put him into office were ardently opposed to the availability of marijuana, Postmus scoffed at the idea. In his view, he said, any use of marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise, should be dealt with as a felony.
In 2006, while he was yet chairman of both the central committee and the board of supervisors, Postmus launched a campaign for county assessor. Spending just under $3 million in what remains to this day the most expensive electoral effort in San Bernardino County history, he beat incumbent Assessor Donald Williamson.
At that point, the future seemed to auger well for Postmus. He had control of the county GOP’s political machine. He held the elected position of the most powerful taxing authority in the county. The loose ethical standards normally applied in San Bernardino County allowed him to adjust the assessments on the property of the county’s wealthy elite downward and thereby save them thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars or perhaps more than a hundred thousand dollars per year, leaving them disposed to make generous donations to Postmus’s political fund, to either of the political action committees he controlled or to the San Bernardino County Republican Party if he made such a request. With his own campaign coffers flush with cash and the county Republican Party structure at his command, Postmus had the luxury of having multiple options as to which office he might next successfully accede to – assemblyman, state senator or congressman – while serving as a kingmaker by being able to vector at will sufficient cash to ensure his closest allies in the primary races against other Republicans prevailed and to then commit adequate resources so that Republicans beat their Democratic counterparts in the November races.
As assessor, however, Postmus soon overreached, as when he increased from one to two the number of assistant assessor positions and installed in those posts two of his closest political associates, neither of whom had any previous experience in assessing property or real estate. He then filled 11 of the assessor’s office’s next 14 highest-paying positions with his cronies and political operatives.
For a time, Postmus continued to ride high, but by late in 2017 the manner in which he and those around him were exploiting the assessor’s office for personal gain and partisan political purposes had grown obvious to those paying attention. Things worsened in 2008, at which point the district attorney’s office detailed investigators to look at the activity engaged in by Postmus, both assistant assessors, and at least seven of the assessor’s office personnel in its management and administrative echelon. In June 2008, Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, who was Postmus’s closest political and office associate, was arrested and charged with six felonies, including destroying public records, vandalism or purposeful destruction of an assessor’s office computer, and the production/creation/forging or public documents. From midsummer 2008 until October of that year, Postmus was absent from the assessor’s office headquarters, and his whereabouts, in the face of growing scrutiny, were publicly unknown. Three months after he surfaced, in January 2009, district attorney’s office investigators, armed with a search warrant relating to Postmus’s suspected misuse of the assessor’s office’s authority and facilities, served a search warrant at Postmus’s Rancho Cucamonga condominium, finding in the course of that action methamphetamine and evidence indicating that he was smoking the crystalline form of the drug and had also engaged in the use of inhalants, such as toluene, paint thinner, butane and aerosol sprays. In February 2009, Postmus resigned as assessor.
In July 2009, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office charged Postmus and Greg Eyler, one of Postmus’s personal/political associates who had been hired into a good-paying administrative position in the assessor’s office, with 12 felony grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and perjury counts, nine lodged against Postmus and three against Eyler. Postmus was also charged with misdemeanor drug possession.
In February 2010, Postmus and Jim Erwin, whom Postmus had hired to serve as one of his assistant assessors, were charged with a total of 15 felonies relating not to acts that took place while Postmus was assessor but rather pertaining to one of the last votes Postmus cast while he was supervisor and his acceptance of money in the aftermath of that vote from the the entity most directly impacted by his vote. The vote in question, made on November 28, 2006, conferred a $102 million settlement on the Colonies Partners development consortium relating to a lawsuit that company had brought against the county in 2002 over flood control issues at its residential and commercial subdivisions in the northeast quadrant of Upland. Erwin had been a consultant for the Colonies Partners engaged in an effort to have the lawsuit settled on terms favorable to the Colonies Partners. Postmus was charged with five felony counts including receiving a bribe in his official capacity, embezzlement by a public official, conflict of interest by a public official and conspiracy to commit a crime. Erwin was charged with nine felony counts including bribing a legislator and a public official, extortion, embezzlement, forgery, perjury and tax evasion. Both Postmus and Erwin pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Thirteen months later, in March 2011, Postmus entered guilty pleas to 14 felony political corruption charges that had grown out of his 2009 and 2010 arrests, including conspiracy, bribery, misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, fraud and perjury, as well as pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor drug charge. He agreed to turn state’s evidence, and in April 2011 testified as the star witness before a grand jury which in May 2011 issued a superseding indictment of Erwin, in which were included Jeff Burum, who was a principal in the Colonies Partners; Paul Biane, who in 2006 was Postmus’s colleague on the board of supervisors who had voted to approve the $102 million settlement with the Colonies Partners; and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff to Gary Ovitt, another member of the board of supervisors who had supported the lawsuit settlement with the Colonies Partners. The 29-count indictment in large measure revolved around the Colonies Partners having conferred a $100,000 contribution upon Kirk’s Alliance for Ethical Government political action committee on May 16, 2007; a $100,000 contribution upon the San Bernardino County Young Republicans political action committee controlled by Biane and his chief of staff, Matt Brown, on June 11, 2007; and two separate $50,000 contributions provided to the Conservatives for a Republican Majority political action committee on June 28, 2007 and the Inland Empire political action committee on July 5, 2007. The Inland Empire PAC and the Conservatives for a Republican Majority PAC were controlled by Postmus, his business and political associate, John “Dino” DeFazio, and Postmus’s political and personal associate, Adam Aleman.
Postmus’s sentencing on his convictions was held in abeyance as the trials for Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk were pending, since he was required, as part of his plea deal, to cooperate with the prosecution in testifying against them, as well as against DeFazio, who had been separately charged with assisting the Colonies Partners in delivering what both the district attorney’s office and the California Attorney General’s Office said was bribe money to Postmus through his participation in the creation of Postmus’s political action committees. Pretrial legal sparring and appeals motions delayed by more than six-and-a-half years Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk going to trial, with jury selection not taking place until December 2016 and the trial starting in January 2017.
During the interim from the indictment to the trial, Postmus found himself languishing. His conviction on the public official conflict of interest charge meant that he was banned for life from holding elected public office in California. Still, he longed to get back into the political game.
On April 8, 2013, either Postmus or his father, who have the same first and last names, sojourned to Cheyenne, Wyoming and registered with the Wyoming secretary of state’s corporate division Mountain States Consulting Group LLC, based in Cheyenne, as a Wyoming domestic limited liability company. Thereafter, having learned the pitfalls of bribetaking and other forms of graft and corruption, Postmus wielded Mountain States Consulting Group as a political money laundering operation. He understood implicitly and explicitly how the political system works, the circular pay-to-play element of control and governance where politicians take in money from those with an interest in the governmental decision-making process, use that money to get into office or stay in office and vote to approve the development projects or the contracts or the franchises of those who have donated that money. He had been caught boldly and baldly doing just that. As the owner of Mountain States Consulting Group, he could offer politicians a way to engage in pay-to-play trade-offs without getting caught and being stigmatized with criminal convictions as he had been. Mountain States Consulting Group took money originating with individuals or companies with a stake in governmental decisions, laundered that money through his company and then provided that cash, either as legitimate political donations or payments in some other form to the politicians making those decisions. Postmus employs Mountain States Consulting Group as a cutout, insulating the recipients of the money – the politicians – from those who are providing the money. When Postmus properly executes on this mission, it protects the politicians from the perception that their votes are being purchased, which has political benefits, while serving to lessen to some extent the possibility that the politicians he is funneling money to will be subject to law enforcement action for engaging in what in the final analysis are quid pro quos, out-and-out bribes or kickbacks. Postmus also utilized Mountain States Consulting Group to employ politicians or those considered to be up-and-coming in politics, such as Jeremiah Brosowske, an energetic and enthusiastic Republican Party volunteer who eventually landed an assignment as the executive director of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and who was considered by many to have the hallmarks of the young Bill Postmus and embodied the same potential of achieving election to the board of supervisors when he was yet in his twenties.
In this way, Postmus managed to remain as a power broker in San Bernardino County political circles.
The trial for Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk took place over the course of nine months in 2017, during which Postmus was called as a prosecution witness. Burum, Biane and Kirk were acquitted. Erwin’s jury deadlocked, and was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the charges against him. The failure of prosecutors to gain convictions against any of the defendants was in some measure considered to be a reflection of Postmus’s lack of credibility brought on by the scandal he had immersed himself in. Following the trial, prosecutors, highly conscious of Postmus’s credibility issue, forsook seeking a conviction against DeFazio on charges of assisting Postmus in laundering the bribe money he had admitted to taking from the Colonies Partners.
While Postmus was yet awaiting sentencing, he moved toward fully re-immersing himself into San Bernardino County politics. He started in Hesperia, a community with which he was intimately familiar. In 2014, he succeeded in getting his longtime political associate, Paul Russ, elected to the city council. In 2016, he strengthened his hold on Hesperia by successfully working, through Mountain States Consulting, in getting another political affiliate, Rebekah Swanson, elected to the city council.
After Hesperia Mayor Russ Blewett died in May 2018, Postmus acted rapidly to promote Brosowske as the appointee to fill the gap on the council Blewett’s passing had created. Indeed, Brosowske gained that appointment and then in November 2018, with the advantage of running as a council incumbent, Brosowske was elected to the council in his own right.
Prior to Postmus’s sentencing by Judge Michael A. Smith, the same judge who had presided over the trial of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk, Postmus and his attorney, Jeffrey Lawrence, sought to withdraw Postmus’s 14 guilty pleas on political corruption charges entered in 2011. Judge Smith denied that motion and ultimately sentenced Postmus to three years in state prison.
Postmus reported to begin his sentence on November 30, 2018.
He was initially incarcerated within the state prison system, but because of so-called prison realignment codified in Assembly Bill 109 and passed by the California Legislature in 2011, he was returned to the custody of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Because of the non-violent nature of Postmus’s crimes, a positive evaluation of Postmus’s behavior in custody and his expressed attitude, as well as his assertion of having undergone a religious conversion, Sheriff John McMahon released him in August 2019.
Postmus immediately picked up where he had left off. Having established himself as a successful political operative in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 election cycles, he was even more active during the 2020 election.
Most notably, Postmus moved to become a central player in the effort to assist those seeking permits and licensing to engage in the sale of marijuana in San Bernardino County and who were accordingly willing to generously reward the elected officials whose votes are needed to ratify the granting of those commercial cannabis licenses and permits.
Among the various county and municipal jurisdictions in California, the San Bernardino County government structure and most of its 24 cities/incorporated towns were among the most resistant to the liberalization in the law pertaining to medical marijuana availability that occurred with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, and the 2016 passage of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It was only relatively recently that first the City of Needles, then Adelanto, thereafter San Bernardino, and now Hesperia and Barstow have consented to permitting commercial marijuana or cannabis-related activity within their confines.
Postmus, in conjunction with DeFazio and Brosowske and a handful of others, through Mountain States Consulting Group, has picked up as major clients well-financed cannabis industry heads who have obtained or are seeking to obtain permits and licenses to operate in Adelanto, San Bernardino, Needles, Hesperia and Barstow. In both Adelanto and San Bernardino, several of the operations obtained those permits by out-and-out bribing elected city officials. Postmus has begun filtering money from that set of cannabis entrepreneurs to politicians to grease the way for the companies he represents to take command of a lion’s share of the marijuana and cannabis-based product market in San Bernardino County.
Postmus has had, the Sentinel has learned, either or both public and private meetings with Supervisors Curt Hagman, Paul Cook and Dawn Rowe. These meetings have in major measure revolved around money, primarily money that Postmus is able to dig up for them. As a fundraiser, Postmus has begun funneling tens of thousands of dollars originating both from the cannabis industry and elsewhere to Hagman, Cook and Rowe for use in their future election campaigns. Simultaneously, he has put together a timetable by which the county will move to allow “established reliable growers” who have already obtained clearance to operate in Needles, Adelanto, Hesperia and San Bernardino to set up operations in the unincorporated portions of the county as well as within the eleven other municipalities in San Bernardino County other than Needles, Hesperia and Adelanto for which the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department provides contract law enforcement service.
Part and parcel to Postmus’s game plan was the election of Thurston “Smitty” Smith to the California Assembly in 2020.
Smith, a concrete pumper by trade who served two terms on the Hesperia City Council from 2006 to 2014, including having been rotated into the position of mayor, was considered by Postmus to be intellectually challenged enough to be easily manipulated. Shortly after Smith assumed his position in the California Legislature, he was bombarded with complaints about the proliferation of illicit marijuana farms in the desert, and thereafter induced by Postmus and his agents to take up a “legislative effort to reform Proposition 64,” one that is aimed at elevating unlicensed marijuana cultivation from an infraction/misdemeanor to a felony, subject to steep penalties, including hefty monetary fines and mandatory prison sentences for such transgressions.
It is Postmus’s, Brosowske’s, and DeFazio’s calculation as well as that of others involved with Mountain States Consulting Group that the legislative program Smith is pursuing will fail in the Democratic-controlled legislature. Thereupon, the stage will be set for the members of the county board of supervisors Postmus is bankrolling to throw up their arms, lament that seeking to eradicate marijuana cultivation in the desert and other unincorporated areas of the county is futile, and call for a change in policy in which the raising of marijuana is permitted, pursuant to a permitting, licensing and taxing regime. Those to be provided with permits are to be limited exclusively, or almost exclusively, to those who have hired Postmus and Mountain States Consulting Group to represent them and who are amenable to becoming a part of a cartel headed by DeFazio, who has already established a cannabis cultivation facility in Needles. Other members of the cartel being assembled include those who have already, in league with Postmus and Mountains States Consulting Group and acting independently of Postmus and Mountain States Consulting Group, demonstrated a willingness, in order to jumpstart their marijuana and cannabis-related business enterprises, to provide bribe money to former Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr, former Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright, former Adelanto Councilman John Woodard, San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia and San Bernardino City Councilman Juan Figueroa.
Third District San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe has demonstrated her willingness to sign onto Postmus’s game plan by vociferously decrying the recent uptick in unlicensed marijuana farms in the desert and calling for intensified eradication of the crops.
In January 2021, almost as if he were following through on a New Year’s resolution, Sheriff McMahon had his department became far more aggressive in locating and uprooting unlicensed marijuana plantations. Indeed, over the next several months, deputies and detectives assigned to the sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team served search warrants or carried out eradication operations in Adelanto, Lucerne Valley, Johnson Valley, El Mirage, Twentynine Palms, Desert Heights, Landers, Yucca Valley, Daggett, Helendale, Yermo, Rancho Cucamonga, Phelan, Newbury Springs, Bloomington, Piñon Hills, Victorville, Hesperia, western Mojave and other outlying desert areas, all as a part of what has been dubbed “Operation Hammer.”
On May 18, 2021 at a workshop pertaining to the county’s proposed 2021-2022 budget, the board of supervisors telegraphed their intention to put $10.4 million into the spending plan for the upcoming year to address nettlesome land use and code enforcement issues in the county’s unincorporated areas, which primarily consist of unlicensed marijuana farms.
Public scrutiny of Operation Hammer intensified, inviting not only local news coverage but that from Los Angeles television and radio stations and those from as far away as Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego. Some of that coverage focused on the advantage the stepped-up enforcement efforts against unlicensed growers of marijuana provided to those entrepreneurs who had managed to get permits for marijuana and cannabis-related operations. Implied in a smattering of the broadcasts and press accounts was that government officials and law enforcement agencies, which had until only recently before assiduously worked to prevent marijuana availability, were now embracing the use of the drug as long as those selling it were paying tribute, in the form of permit and licensing fees and excise levies to local government, essentially filling government coffers and lining the pockets of government officials.
On June 8, McMahon went before the Apple Valley Town Council, intent on justifying his department’s intensified marijuana eradication effort. In the face of the criticism of law enforcement’s apparent assistance in clearing the decks of the competition the licensed marijuana providers were facing, McMahon doubled down, using language he soon regretted.
Referencing the City of Adelanto, where dozens of marijuana and cannabis-related businesses had been established based on payoffs provided over the course of more than four years to former Mayor Rich Kerr, Councilmen John Woodard and Jermaine Wright and several of their successors, McMahon said, “Adelanto has … illegal grows as well. That’s in direct conflict and competition with the legal growers that are paying taxes and paying fees to the city to operate. It is obviously impacting their business, as well. Needles sees the same thing.”
McMahon went on to advocate that other cities and the county adopt an ordinance similar to one on the books in Needles, which levies $10,000 a plant fines on anyone growing marijuana without a license.
Immediately, McMahon found himself figuratively immolated in a firestorm of controversy.
At issue was his insistence on having his department focus intense manpower and other resources on eradicating marijuana being grown by unlicensed and unpermitted farmers, while ignoring the graft – in the form of bribes and kickbacks – being provided by Postmus and Mountain States Consulting Group along with others to elected officials in the county who were granting commercial marijuana and cannabis-related operating permits to those who were paying them off. It was noted that in Adelanto, where the most intensive marijuana-involved graft was taking place, the sheriff’s department was the contract provider of law enforcement services.
Looming into sudden focus was the manner in which McMahon in August 2018 had freed Postmus from custody 22 months prior to his then-scheduled release date, after the disgraced former supervisor/assessor had served fewer than nine of the 36 months of his sentence, and more than eight months prior to the half-way point in his sentence, which under normal circumstances would have been the earliest Postmus could have been released. The circumstances led to a widespread assumption that McMahon himself was in on the graft.
McMahon was angered, but before taking any precipitate action, he had investigators with the sheriff’s department’s intelligence division and those attached to the department’s command echelon look into the situation. In short order those investigators determined:
* While Postmus was awaiting sentencing from 2013 until 2018, he was indeed taking in money originating with individuals or companies with an interest in the outcome of governmental decisions, laundering it through Mountain States Consulting Group and then funneling that money to elected decision-makers in county and local government;
* That Postmus had wangled early release from incarceration by being on his best behavior while in a prison and jail setting and representing to those assigned to evaluate him for parole that he had undergone a spiritual transformation and religious conversion;
* A standard element within Postmus’s political approach when he held office was to mimic the position of law enforcement holding that marijuana use is antithetical to an orderly society and that the liberalization of marijuana laws was plain wrong, and that he advocated fully recriminalizing marijuana use and possession to felony status, while maintaining that in no way should the County of San Bernardino or any of its cities allow medical marijuana to be sold;
* That while he was supervisor and assessor, he frequently engaged himself in the so-called party and play subculture, utilizing an online service by which he would schedule sexual hookups with other homosexual men that included the use of drugs – extending to methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana – and the arrangements for those encounters included specifying which of the participants was to host the get-together and supply the drugs to be used;
* That immediately upon his release in 2018, Postmus reinstituted Mountain States Consulting Group’s money and political fund laundering activity involving elected officials and candidates;
* That Postmus, while militating on behalf of actual or prospective cannabis industry figures or individuals with applications for marijuana or cannabis-related commercial licenses, was engaged in both direct and indirect efforts to convince officials such as Assemblyman Smith or McMahon and his officers that efforts to eradicate illicitly cultivated marijuana were necessary;
* That Postmus’s business associate DeFazio had established a marijuana cultivation operation in Needles;
* That Postmus had already begun filtering money originating with those elements of the cannabis industry seeking commercial marijuana or cannabis-related permits and licenses to Supervisors Curt Hagman, Paul Cook and Dawn Rowe.
From the time he had been sworn in as a deputy with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in 1985, McMahon had been an upholder of the law and a crusader against marijuana. In his time as a law enforcement officer, he and his colleagues with the sheriff’s department had made tens of thousands of marijuana-related arrests, with tens of thousands of those offenders briefly seeing the inside of a jail cell as part of society’s effort to convince them to end their dalliance with marijuana. There were thousands of others who were arrested on marijuana related offenses in San Bernardino County during those three decades who were incarcerated or imprisoned for longer periods of time. John McMahon stood by that record.
As it dawned on McMahon what Postmus had pulled off so far and what the politician-turned-political boss is yet purposed to achieve, he saw his life and career flash in front of him, the prospect that he would forever go down in San Bernardino County history as another corrupt law enforcement officer who had enabled the corrupt politicians within his milieu. He was particularly dismayed with Cook, a Marine colonel who had run for and was elected to the town council and mayoralty of Yucca Valley, the California Assembly, U.S. Congress and, most recently, county supervisor. Cook was, as he was, a Republican, who had professed, and seemed to embody, conservative, pro-military and pro-law enforcement values. McMahon had supported Cook in his political campaigns and Cook had endorsed him. Similarly, McMahon had taken for granted that Rowe, who had once been employed on Cook’s congressional staff, and Hagman, who had been an assemblyman and the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, shared his goals of preventing the liberalism that was overrunning the rest of California and bringing with it an avalanche of marijuana that would bury San Bernardino County. Learning that Postmus was pouring marijuana industry money into Cook’s, Rowe’s and Hagman’s coffers and pockets, and that the three were on board for allowing the cartel that Postmus represents and DeFazio heads to muscle in on the county’s marijuana trade overwhelmed McMahon. This was compounded by his realization that he himself had been manipulated by Postmus into using his department to assist in entrenching the Postmus/DeFazio/Brosowske cartel, and that the reputation he had built over a 35-year law enforcement career crowned by eight-and-a-half-years as sheriff was about to be utterly besmirched. On June 9, it first crossed his mind that the only way out was to resign. Nine days later, on June 18, McMahon did just that, announcing he would leave as sheriff on July 16.
In the weeks and months prior to McMahon’s announcement of his resignation, the Sentinel sought to engage with the sheriff on his personal knowledge and his department’s institutional knowledge of Postmus’s political money laundering activity vis-à-vis Mountain States Consulting Group. In making those inquiries, the Sentinel was explicit in referencing Postmus’s/Mountain States Consulting Group’s provision of money to a host of the county’s politicians, including Cook, Rowe and Hagman. The Sentinel also inquired as to whether the sheriff recognized that Operation Hammer was assisting Postmus, either deliberately or inadvertently, in his effort to manipulate the county and several of its cities into granting the cartel headed by DeFazio which Postmus and Mountain States Consulting Group represents a virtual monopoly or near-exclusive franchise over commercial marijuana activity in their jurisdictions.
Over an extended period earlier this year, McMahon did not respond to the Sentinel’s inquiries. On June 10, then-Sergeant/now Lieutenant Mauricio Hurtado told the Sentinel the sheriff would respond the following week. On June 18, McMahon announced his resignation as sheriff. More recently, the Sentinel renewed its efforts to have McMahon go on the record with regard to Postmus’s seeming success in cutting out a niche in San Bernardino County for the cartel he and DeFazio have created as well as his decision to grant Postmus an early release from custody in 2018; the investigation the sheriff’s department had undertaken into, and the information obtained regarding, Mountain States Consulting Group; his feelings about Postmus’s and Mountain States Consulting Group’s efforts to influence politicians with the application of campaign contributions and bribes/kickbacks; along with his views on the societal change ongoing in which marijuana is transitioning from its once banned status into a legally available and permitted intoxicative substance.
McMahon did respond to those inquiries.
An individual close to McMahon’s told the Sentinel that the decision to have the sheriff’s department engage in an intensified program to eradicate the proliferating illicit marijuana cultivation operations in the county’s desert areas had nothing at all to do with any lobbying effort by Postmus or Mountain States Consulting Group, and that it was an organic and earnest effort to bring under control a problem that has existed since shortly after the passage of Proposition 64, and which has been steadily worsening.
The sheriff’s position is an independently elected one, which gave McMahon autonomy and the ability to use his own judgment in directing the sheriff’s department, he said. That the initiation of Operation Hammer began around the time that Postmus began slipping money to Cook, Rowe and Hagman was “a complete coincidence” that had “absolutely no meaning” and “no effect” on the sheriff’s department, he said.
McMahon was “disappointed” to learn about Cook accepting money from Postmus, he said.
Furthermore, he insisted, any suggestion that McMahon was taking money from Postmus or could be influenced by money was completely off the mark. “You cannot print anything like that,” he said. “That is not only untrue, you would be seriously misleading your readers to even suggest anything like that. You would damage your newspaper’s credibility with anyone who knows John or anything about him. John was a good sheriff. He is honest. He was never a politician. He had some friends who were, but he was never a politician himself.”
Assailing McMahon for Postmus’s early release was unfair, he said. “John’s a Christian,” he said. “He believes in giving people a chance. That’s all that was.”
McMahon was not overly familiar with Postmus and what his criminal history consisted of, nor was he aware of Postmus’ political activity in the years after he left office. It was less than two months before McMahon left as sheriff that he learned about Postmus’s activities. “He was completely, 100 percent blindsided by that,” he said. “He was sickened by it. He had no idea. It has a lot to do with why he’s not sheriff anymore.”
By Mark Gutglueck