By Mark Gutglueck
Amid conflicting reports, the resurgence of the Postmus political syndicate has apparently led to San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Bob Page making an exit as the county’s chief elections officer.
Undisputed is that Page, who has been with the county in various capacities for over two decades and has been serving as the head of San Bernardino County’s election system since 2018, is officially departing San Bernardino County on February 25 to take up the position of registrar of voters in Orange County.
Attending the circumstance is a situation that strongly suggests Page and the elections office in San Bernardino County were and are yet being pressured to tilt the county’s elections in favor of a slew of existing officeholders and establishment figures, primarily Bill Postmus’s associates and clients and others supported by the local Republican Party.
County employees, including ones in the registrar’s office have related that efforts to sway certain elections have taken place and are ongoing. Meanwhile, Postmus and his business associates as well as business interests working in conjunction with him and the candidates he is seeking to get reelected or elected have interests in proposals that will come before the county and local governmental jurisdictions in which hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and scores of millions of dollars in profit are at stake.
An element holding the enterprise, an amalgam of business and political interests, together is Postmus’s skill in delivering political payoffs to governmental decision-makers. Postmus applies a formula that thwarts political activity watchdogs and fund regulators from tracing the money back to its origin, that being those business entities with an interest in the outcome of the governmental action involved. This has the further effect of obstructing investigators, stalling enforcement activity or otherwise leaving prosecutors disinclined to pursue political corruption charges against those involved.
In early 2020, Phil Cothran succeeded Jan Leja as chair of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. Cothran, a successful insurance broker from Fontana, has been involved in Fontana politics since the 1980s, having become a major player therein initially through key support he provided to the political career of David Eshleman, a Fontana native, local businessman and, ironically, Democrat, who was elected to the city council in his maiden political run in 1990. Eshleman ultimately acceded to the mayor’s position in 1994, serving two terms, during which Cothran’s reputation as a political operator advanced. As a Republican, Cothran was a key backer of many Republican figures in Fontana, including former Councilman and Mayor Frank Scialdone, one-time Councilwoman and present Mayor Acquanetta Warren, Councilman John Roberts, former Councilwoman and present Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, former Councilman Jesse Armendarez, as well as his son and current Councilman Phil Cothran Jr. Phil Cothran Sr. has built his reputation in and outside Fontana by using his personal wealth to serve as a major backer of Republican candidates and causes and through his longtime service as a member of the San Bernardino County Workforce Development Board, a body of volunteers who supervise the allocation of federal funding to train unemployed and underemployed local residents.
While he was previously involved in the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, after his son’s election to the city council in 2018, Phil Cothran became even more heavily involved in that organization.
Soon after Cothran was elected chairman, word followed that Postmus, formerly a leading figure in the county Republican Party, was using the relationship he had developed with Cothran to get back into a position of power.
Postmus had once been the Boy Wonder of San Bernardino County politics. While he was yet in his early twenties in the 1990s and had not yet graduated from Redlands University with a business degree, he co-founded the High Desert Young Republicans with Keith Olberg, Brad Mitzelfelt, Anthony Adams and Tad Honeycutt. He went to work as a volunteer and field representative for then-Assemblyman and later California Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte, Assemblywoman Kathleen Honeycutt and then Keith Olberg when he succeeded Kathleen Honeycutt in the Assembly. In 2000, attacking incumbent First District County Supervisor Kathy Davis, a fellow Republican, as too liberal, Postmus successfully challenged her for reelection and became, at the age of 29, the fifth youngest supervisor in county history. Four years later, in 2004, he acceded to the position of chairman of the board of supervisors, the second-youngest person in county history to hold that post, and was simultaneously elected chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee.
Corresponding with Postmus’s reign as a GOP luminary was the Republicans’ dominance of the county politically. At that time, of the five Congressman representing San Bernardino County, four were Republicans even though California’s Congressional Delegation had more Democrats than Republicans. Of the five state senators representing San Bernardino County, four were Republicans, even though the Democrats at that time outnumbered Republicans in the State of California’s upper legislative house. Of the nine members of the California Assembly representing San Bernardino County, seven were Republicans, even though the Democrats held a majority of the positions in California’s lower legislative house. During the time he was active within the High Desert Young Republicans or leading the San Bernardino County Central Committee, Postmus succeeded in getting more than a dozen of his political associates elected to political office, including Keith Olberg as assemblyman, Anthony Adams as assemblyman, Tad Honeycutt as Hesperia city councilman and mayor, Dennis Nowicki as Hesperia City Councilman and mayor, Bill Jensen as Hesperia city councilman and mayor, Jim Lindley as Hesperia city councilman and mayor and Bob Hunter as Victorville city councilman. At that time, Republicans outnumbered Democrats in San Bernardino County. In 2006, midway through his second term as supervisor, Postmus vied successfully for San Bernardino County assessor, the most powerful taxing authority in the county. As assessor, Postmus possessed the ability to increase, decrease or statically maintain assessments of real estate, property holdings, buildings, businesses, factories, foundries, plants, warehouses, commercial establishments, warehouses, airplanes, boats and all manner of other assets for property tax purposes. This boosted his ability to touch the county’s wealthiest residents, business owners, real estate moguls, landowners, investors and speculators for donations and political support for himself, his designated political allies and associates, local Republicans and political causes.
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 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 15 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.
In 2008, a series of revelations with regard to how his office was being run and his drug use occurred. In January 2009, when the public integrity unit of the district attorney’s office prepared, obtained and served a search warrant at his condominium in an effort to find evidence of his misuse of his public office, methamphetamine, syringes and other drug paraphernalia were discovered among other incriminating material, and he resigned his elected position. He was charged with multiple criminal offenses and in March 2011 he entered guilty pleas to 14 felony counts and a single drug possession misdemeanor.
Six of those 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 that panel’s chairman. The felonies he was convicted of included perjury, Penal Code § 118; fraud, Penal Code § 484; conspiracy, Penal Code § 182; misappropriation of public funds, Penal Code § 424; bribery, Penal Code Section 86; acceptance of a bribe by a public official, Penal Code § 165; and public officer conflict of interest, Government Code § 1090, the last of which rendered him ineligible to hold elected office in California for the remainder of his life. In entering his pleas, he agreed to testify against others involved in the criminal activity he had engaged in. A month after entering his pleas he served as the star witness before a grand jury. Eight others were charged in a celebrated set of cases relating to the corruption of the political system under his watch. It took more than six years for all of the cases to go to trial. Three of the others were convicted. Three were exonerated. A jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict against another defendant and prosecutors ultimately decided against taking the eighth of Postmus’s criminally-charged political associates, John Dino DeFazio, to trial.
During the more than five-year period while five of his co-defendants were awaiting trial and he was yet awaiting sentencing, Postmus longed to get back into the political game. He was prohibited, however, from seeking public elective office by his Government Code § 1090 conviction on the governmental officer conflict of interest conviction. Nevertheless, he worked his way around that limitation by creating a Wyoming-based company, Mountain States Consulting Group, LLC, and used that as a vehicle by which he engaged in political activity. Having himself been tripped up by California criminal statutes and political reform laws relating to bribery, receiving contributions in exchange for actions taken in an official capacity, an elected official having a personal financial interest in the outcome of a vote in which he or she participates or a governmental official having a direct or traceably indirect financial relationship with individuals impacted by his or her official action, Postmus designed and utilized Mountain States Consulting Group as a political cut-out, one by which a company, entity or person with an interest in governmental action could deliver money as either a political donation or payment to politicians or government officials involved in making the decision or decisions relating to that governmental action in a way that the origin of the money could not be tracked. In addition to political money laundering, Mountain States Consulting could also be used to employ politicians, giving them lucrative working assignments. The politicians would then merely report their employment with or through Mountain States Consulting Group on their statements of economic interest, in that way essentially legalizing, or so Postmus theorized, the delivery of money that if otherwise paid to the officeholder directly by an entity interested in action that officeholder voted upon would be considered a bribe.
Through his running of Mountain States Consulting Group, Postmus was able to buy and sell influence, putting himself back in the thick of San Bernardino County politics.
In 2018, after the prosecutions of his co-defendants were completed, Postmus was sentenced to three years in state prison on his convictions. After several months in the state prison system, as a consequence of the State of California’s prison reform and overcrowding reduction efforts known as realignment, Postmus was transferred into the custody of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. In August 2019, Sheriff John McMahon, citing Postmus’s good behavior while in custody, granted him an early release, some 27 months before his sentence was set to elapse.
That enabled Postmus to engage himself in political activity during the 2020 election cycle.
When Cothran’s assumed the chairmanship of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, he turned management of the Republican Party’s county electioneering apparatus over to Postmus and Dakota Higgins, who is the deputy chief of staff to Paul Cook, who now occupies Postmus’s previous position of First District San Bernardino County supervisor.
The Sentinel is informed that Postmus has dedicated himself to ensuring that former Fontana City Councilman Jess Armendarez is elected Second District supervisor in this year’s election to replace Supervisor Janice Rutherford, a Republican who is being termed out of office as she approaches the end of her third four-year term. Armendarez in 2020 vied unsuccessfully for Fifth District county supervisor against Joe Baca Jr. As a consequence of the redistricting that took place after the 2020 Census, the section of Fontana in which Armendarez lives has now been moved into the Second District. Another campaign Postmus is assisting is that for the reelection of Fourth District San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman, the current chairman of the board of supervisors and at one time the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. Postmus is also working toward Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren’s reelection as well as that of Cothran’s son, Phil Cothran, to the Fontana City Council.
In addition to his desire to remain a political player, Postmus has the added incentive of seeing Armendarez and Hagman in roles as county supervisors and Warren and Cothran Jr. remain on the Fontana City Council in that he represents two companies, Allied Business Solutions and Eagle 55, which have already obtained and are continuing to seek lucrative no-bid contracts from both the county and the City of Fontana.
Last month, the Sentinel was informed that Page was on the verge of resigning as registrar of voters. An inquiry was made as to that report’s accuracy. The Sentinel was informed there was no substance to it.
Thereafter, the Sentinel was told by county employees that Cothran had also brought Postmus to meetings with county staff regarding the registrar of voters and the county’s election function. Issues discussed pertained to ballot titles that the candidates would be able to use in the upcoming election. Information provided to the Sentinel suggested Page felt he was being pressured and bullied by Hagman and Supervisor Dawn Rowe. A county employee told the Sentinel that Page had been warned not to disclose that Bill Postmus was meeting with members of the registrar of voters staff, and that if he did, he risked losing his job. The context of that statement suggested that the warning issued to Page originated from someone with the authority to fire him or have him fired, most likely Hagman, Rowe, San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Leonard Hernandez, San Bernardino County Chief Operating Officer Luther Snoke or a combination thereof. The information further suggested that Page was therefore looking to leave the employment of the county.
Page has a history, while serving as a San Bernardino County employee, of resisting pressure and overtures he considered to be improper. In 2007, while Page was working as the chief of staff for then-Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales, he met with two of Gonzales’s campaign contributors, Arshak Kouladjian and his brother, Vartan. The Kouladjian brothers, through their company, AVH Holdings, were seeking to proceed with an auto recovery and auction project on Slover Avenue in Bloomington, which had run into delays because of requirements relating to road improvements, as well as grading and drainage work.
At the Black Angus restaurant on San Bernardino’s Hospitality Lane in October 2007, Arshak Kouladjian offered Page a white envelope, which Page presumed was filled with cash. Page did accept the envelope and he informed the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office about what he considered was likely a bribery attempt. Page then worked with the district attorney’s office and its investigators, recording further telephonic exchanges with the Kouladjians, who were yet pushing Page and Gonzales to facilitate the approval of their Slover Avenue project. On January 3, 2008, while wearing a concealed audio recording device and transmitter, Page once more met with the Kouladjians for lunch at the Black Angus, and he was offered once more a cash-stuffed envelope, which he accepted. Meanwhile, in a van in the Black Angus’ parking lot, District Attorney’s Office Investigator Gary Barnes monitored through a radio transceiver the conversation between the three. After leaving the restaurant, Page turned the envelope over to Barnes, who upon opening it found it contained 150 $100 bills – $15,000. Ultimately, the Kouladjians were prosecuted for bribery.
Based upon the information received that Page was being pressed by Cothran, Postmus, Hagman and Rowe to conduct the 2022 election in a way that would advantage candidates they favored, the Sentinel on February 4 sent a public records request to the county for Page’s calendar to determine with whom he had met over the previous 25 months going back to January 2020.
On February 7, Orange County announced that it had hired Page to replace its outgoing registrar of voters, Neal Kelley, effective February 25.
On February 9 at 3:36 p.m., the Sentinel sent an email to Page, inquiring if he had met with Phil Cothran Sr., what the substance or subject matter of his meeting with Cothran was if such a meeting had taken place, whether Postmus was at that meeting, what the substance of his discussion with Postmus was, whether he had been instructed or warned not to disclose that Mr. Postmus was in attendance at the meeting, who it was that told him or warned him not to disclose Postmus’s presence at the meeting and whether the series of events involving Cothran and Postmus, if indeed there was such a series of events, had any bearing on his decision to leave the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office for the Orange County post.
Without responding to most of the Sentinel’s inquiry, Page on February 9 at 6:07 p.m. tersely replied, “There was no such meeting.”
Page’s response was ambiguous, as he did not specify whether he was referring to a meeting with Cothran, a meeting with Cothran and Postmus or a meeting with Postmus.
The Sentinel redoubled its inquiry with county employees. Multiple employees stated that Page had met with Cothran, that there were, according to one of those employees, “dozens” of people who saw Page and Cothran together, and that Postmus has been on the premises of the registrar of voters’ office in the presence of Cothran and had met with office personnel, though Page may not have been present.
The Sentinel sent an email to David Wert, the county’s official spokesman, for clarification.
This afternoon, at 2:21 p.m. on Friday, February 11, Page responded, “While you asked several questions, it seemed to me that your principal inquiry was whether I had ‘recently met with San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee Chairman Phil Cothran and that Bill Postmus was also present at the meeting.’”
Page wrote, “As I have never met with, nor had any contact whatsoever with, Mr. Postmus during my tenure as registrar of voters, I told you that there was no such meeting. As registrar of voters, I have on occasion met with local representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties. This includes a meet and greet meeting with Mr. Cothran in April 2021.”
Page left unanswered questions as to whether Postmus is actively involved in pushing the registrar of voters’ office toward policies intended to assist in the electoral prospects for certain candidates and whether county higher-ups have pressured him and his office to keep quiet about Postmus’s activity and whether or not that pressure, if in fact it was applied, had any bearing on his decision to leave the county.
By Mark Gutglueck