More than a decade after he was convicted on 14 felony political corruption charges, Bill Postmus has made his way back into the thick of San Bernardino County politics by constructing political money laundering operations which he has put at the disposal of a number of current elected officials, including Supervisors Curt Hagman, Dawn Rowe and Paul Cook.
By delivering bribes and political donations to a wide cross section of both county and city officials, Postmus has already engineered diversions and springbacks of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the individuals and companies who are making the illicit payments to those politicians. As it stands, a collection of business interests willing to funnel money to the county’s political elite are on a trajectory to reap hundreds of millions of more dollars in mostly no-bid public contracts or as proceeds from businesses which must be given selectively granted franchises and licensing or operating permits.
In 1980, when he was nine years old, Bill Postmus’s imagination was captured by the triumph of Ronald Reagan in that year’s presidential election, and the advancement of the conservative cause.
In the 1990s, while he was yet a student studying business administration at Redlands University, he volunteered on the campaigns of local Republican candidates. After college he found work in the offices of Republican Assemblyman and later State Senator Jim Brulte, Republican Assemblywoman Kathleen Honeycutt and Republican Assemblyman Keith Olberg. A resident of Phelan, at the age of 25, he co-founded the High Desert Young Republicans.
In 2000, Postmus 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. It was by his discretion, in the middle of the first decade of the Third Millennium, that over two dozen state senators, assembly members, mayors and council members had been provided with the clearance to run for the offices they held and the monetary and electioneering support they needed to win the contests that put them there. While Postmus was San Bernardino County’s Republican Party Chairman, four of the county’s five congressman were Republicans, four of the county’s five state senators were Republicans, seven of the county’s nine assembly members were Republicans, four of the county’s five supervisors were Republicans and 19 of the county’s 24 mayors were Republicans.
Upon coming into the position of assessor, Postmus created two assistant assessor posts where there had previously been one, and then filled both with his political associates, neither of whom had previous experience in real estate or assessing property. Less than two years later, in 2008, even more serious questions had begun to emerge about Postmus’s judgment and basic honesty when it was revealed that he had installed into 13 of the assessor’s office’s 15 highest-paying positions his political associates who had no real estate or property valuation experience, most of whom were engaged not in carrying out the legitimate function of the assessor’s office but were running political campaigns. Within short order, one of his appointees as assistant assessor, Adam Aleman, was criminally charged and convicted of one count of felony theft, one count of felony 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. His other assistant assessor, Jim Erwin, was charged with eight felony counts of perjury and two felony counts of filing forged or falsified documents, one count of bribing a public official, one count of extortion, one count of embezzlement, one count of misappropriation of public funds and one count of forgery. Two other Postmus political associates who were hired into lucrative positions in the assessor’s office but were performing no work relating to assessing property or factories or assets for taxation purposes were charged, prosecuted and convicted of bilking the county’s taxpayers.
In January 2009, when investigators with the district attorney’s office arrived at his Rancho Cucamonga residence with a search warrant to seek evidence of misuse of his authority as assessor, a cache of methamphetamine and the paraphernalia for smoking and injecting it was found. The following month, Postmus resigned as assessor.
In July 2009, Postmus was charged with four counts of embezzlement by a public officer, two counts of grand theft and one count of perjury pertaining to activities he had engaged in while he was assessor. Those charges pertained to accusations he had used the office’s assets and facilities for purposes unrelated to the assessor’s function, and that he had taken money or reimbursements he was not entitled to.
In February 2010, Postmus was charged with five felonies – criminal conspiracy (Penal Code Section 182), soliciting a bribe (Penal Code Section 86), accepting a bribe as a public official (Penal Code Section 165), engaging in a conflict of interest as a public official (Government Code Section 1090), and misappropriation of public funds (Penal Code Section 424). Those charges related 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 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. Postmus pleaded not guilty to the charges. Over the next 13 months, the original five charges relating to soliciting and receiving a bribe in his official capacity, embezzlement by a public official, conflict of interest by a public official and conspiracy would be augmented by three further charges, including fraud and perjury.
In March 2011, Postmus entered guilty pleas to 14 felony political corruption charges – eight stemming from his time as supervisor and six from his stint as assessor. He further pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor drug charge relating to the methamphetamine found in his home during the January 2009 search of those premises.
Acknowledged with Postmus’s guilty pleas was that, in return for his vote to approve the $102 million settlement with the Colonies Partners in 2006, he had sought and then accepted two separate political donations totaling $100,000 from the principals with the Colonies Partners, one of those being a $50,000 check dated June 28, 2007 to the Conservatives for a Republican Majority political action committee he had co-founded and a $50,000 check dated July 5, 2007 to the Inland Empire political action committee, another entity he had co-founded. 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.
The month after his guilty plea, Postmus became the star witness before a grand jury, which in May 2011 returned an indictment against four of Postmus’s alleged co-conspirators with regard to the $102 million payout to the Colonies Partners, those being Erwin, who had been one of Postmus’s political associates and a Colonies Partners consultant before Postmus appointed him as one of his two assistant assessors; Colonies Partners Managing Principal Jeff Burum, who had been instrumental in making donations to the three supervisors, including Postmus, who had approved the $102 million settlement; Postmus’s one-time board colleague and political associate Paul Biane, who as supervisor had provided one of the three crucial votes to approve the $102 million settlement and likewise received a $100,000 donation from the Colonies partners in the aftermath of that settlement; and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff to the third member of the board of supervisors, Gary Ovitt, who had ratified the $102 million settlement with his vote. A few months after his boss, Ovitt, made that vote, the Colonies Partners cut a $100,000 check to a political action committee Kirk controlled.
Postmus’s sentencing on his convictions was held in abeyance as the trials for seven others caught up in the dual scandals involving the board of supervisors and assessor’s office played out, given that he was required, as part of his plea deal, to cooperate with the prosecution in testifying against those various defendants, whom he had acknowledged as his co-conspirators.
Pretrial legal sparring and appeals motions relating to several of those charged resulted in the trial for Erwin, Burum, Biane and Kirk being delayed by more than six-and-a-half years. Aleman, like Postmus, had already been convicted, along with two of Postmus’s associates to whom, in acts of flagrant political patronage, he had given generously-remunerated phantom positions in the assessor’s office, ones where they did not need to show up – and often did not – and yet still collected paychecks provided by the county’s taxpayers.
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, Postmus sojourned to Cheyenne, Wyoming and registered Mountain States Consulting Group LLC, based in Cheyenne, as a Wyoming domestic limited liability company with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s corporate division.
Having been involved in bribetaking and other forms of graft and corruption, Postmus is acutely conscious of the potential pitfalls in such activity and precisely how it was that he was caught. Through his time in office, his arrests and ensuing prosecution and conviction, Postmus gained an implicit and explicit understanding of how the political and justice systems work and mesh, as well as both the reach and limitations of the prosecutorial arm of the government in making politicians adhere to the law. He has attained a flawless feel for 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 was caught boldly and baldly doing just that.
With Mountain States Consulting Group, Postmus created a political money laundering operation, a device by which politicians can engage in pay-to-play trade-offs without getting caught and being stigmatized with criminal convictions as he had been. Mountain States Consulting Group takes money originating with individuals or companies with a stake in governmental decisions, launders that money through his company and then provides that cash, either as 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 a considerable 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 utilizes Mountain States Consulting Group to employ politicians or those considered to be up-and-coming in politics with phantom assignments, providing them with a way to hold body and soul together without actually having to work, freeing them up to engage in campaigning or other electioneering activity to advance their political prospects, standing or careers.
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 Jeremiah Brosowske, an ambitious 27-year-old Republican Party activist he had taken under his wing as a Mountain States Consulting Group employee, 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.
In 1996, four years before Postmus was elected to the board of supervisors, California’s voter had passed Proposition 215, the compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, which made marijuana use legal for medicinal purposes by those who obtained a prescription for the drug from a licensed physician. San Bernardino County officials as well as those in political and administrative leadership positions in all 24 of the county’s municipalities refused to allow marijuana dispensaries to be licensed or permitted for the next 16 years. Throughout his time on the board of supervisors, Postmus was at the forefront of those holding the line against cannabis legalization. He derisively dismissed advocates of the availability of marijuana for medical use as “potheads” who were seeking to use the medical applicability of the drug as a ruse to obtain and use it for its intoxicative effect. Legalized availability of marijuana would never happen as long as he was in office, Postmus vowed, because the use of the drug was “immoral.”
In 2012, Needles became the first San Bernardino County city to allow dispensaries to operate within its city limits, followed by Adelanto in 2015. Well after the end of Postmus’s time in public office, in 2016, California’s voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Needles and Adelanto, having previously established commercial marijuana-based enterprises, including both dispensaries and cultivation facilities, made a smooth transition to allowing such businesses within their confines to cater to a far larger customer base, cutting their municipal operations in on a substantial flow of revenue based on the taxes and fees to be imposed on marijuana sales, or so they hoped. Meanwhile, San Bernardino’s voters in 2016 had passed a citizen-proposed measure calling for the legalized sale of marijuana within that city’s confines. Barstow sought to get in on the marijuana bonanza as well. In Hesperia, the city council did not buy into the marijuana frenzy whole hog, but its council did agree to allow distributors of the drug to operate there, provided there was adequate security at the businesses, there was no onsite sale of the drug, no signs advertising the drug or product at the delivery warehouses, and the vehicles used no logos or markings and did not display any advertisements for marijuana or cannabis products.
Upon the legalization of the substance, Postmus turned on a dime and began representing what is now known as the “Postmus cartel,” a group of cannabis entrepreneurs who have achieved licenses and permits to run cannabis-related businesses in Adelanto by bribing the likes of former Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr, current Adelanto Mayor Gabriel Reyes, former Adelanto Councilman John Woodard, former Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright, current San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia and current San Bernardino Councilman Juan Figueroa.
Key to this program was stirring up law enforcement to carry out operations crippling the competition of the cannabis-related businesses that Postmus represents. Behind the scenes, through his connection with former San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, Assemblyman Thurston “Smitty” Smith, San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Cook, San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman and San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, Postmus has prompted the sheriff’s department to carry out more than a yearlong effort at eradicating “illicit” marijuana growing operations, meaning those cannabis-related operations that are not run by owners, investors and entrepreneurs who are delivering through Postmus money to the politicians in control of the marijuana business permitting processes.
In January 2021, a stepped-up marijuana eradication effort was initiated, the brainchild, or so it was credited, of former Sheriff McMahon. It was perpetuated by McMahon’s designated successor, Shannon Dicus, and was dubbed Operation Hammer Strike on August 30, 2021 after having been granted by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors a $4 million augmentation in the 2021-22 San Bernardino County Budget. Over the course of the six months since August 30 and the first of this month, the sheriff’s Hammer Strike task force served 588 search warrants, seized 668,299 marijuana plants, 111,268.8 pounds of processed marijuana, 203 guns, 30.7 pounds of concentrated marijuana, 92.8 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms, 144 grams of methamphetamine and cocaine, and $2,399,595.00 in illegal narcotic sales proceeds. In the process, the department dismantled 15 cannabinol extraction laboratories and 28 electrical bypasses along with 4,124 greenhouses. Unmolested by the sheriff’s department throughout that time and the eight previous months have been the cultivation operations for the various thriving commercial marijuana enterprises set up by those individuals and entities which retained Postmus to deliver political grease to the county’s elected decision-makers, including members of the board of supervisors, District Attorney Jason Anderson and Dicus, who is now involved in an election campaign to maintain himself in the sheriff’s post that was handed off to him by McMahon and confirmed by a vote of the board of supervisors on July 7, 2022.
The thriving marijuana cultivation and sales operations in San Bernardino County include one in which Postmus is himself involved through his business partnership with John “Dino” DeFazio. Operation Hammer Strike’s activity consists of raids on, in virtually all cases, marijuana cultivation facilities, whether they are in the open, within greenhouses and nurseries, commercial or industrial buildings and residences. The sheriff’s department has, as a part of Operation Hammer Strike, committed no resources to tracking the financial activity accompanying the uptick in cannabis-related marijuana commercial activity in San Bernardino County, which involves the illicit payments made to politicians to grease the way for the marijuana businesses that are thriving to maintain their advantageous position, including payoffs to the members of the board of supervisors.
San Bernardino County has sponsored new state legislation AB 2728 and SB 1426 that will increase fines for illegal cannabis farming and target the illegal pollution of groundwater by illicit cannabis cultivators. The county is also seeking $10 million in state funding to clean up environmental damage at hundreds of illegal cannabis sites and is strongly backing several related “illegal cannabis” bills in Sacramento.
“Illegal cannabis farming is devastating the desert communities of San Bernardino County,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. “The county is determined to stop this terrible damage to the environment and to protect the lives and property of our residents from lawless criminals.”
Postmus’s involvement in establishing licensed, permitted and protected marijuana-related enterprises is perhaps the most remarkable element of his political comeback, given his past opposition to marijuana in any form and the extent to which he has succeeded in compromising the sheriff’s department as a law enforcement institution in doing so. Still, the majority of his clients that Postmus’s political activity is advancing are ones seeking to obtain governmental approval of their property development applications, to obtain government contracts or to be awarded franchises that are controlled by various governmental entities.
For many, government is a cash cow. For those who are government employees, their paychecks come from the government. For those who are involved in the development and building industry, the permits, permission and entitlements to build are granted by the government. Those who sell goods or provide services to the government are dependent upon the decision-makers in government to look kindly upon them, to contract with them rather than their competitors to provide those goods or services. There is a special class of businesses, ones given franchises by the government who are dependent upon government officials to make decisions that will allow them to prosper. Franchises are select businesses that are given special licenses to operate, such that not just anyone can engage in what they do. Franchises are given to some and denied to others. Falling within the franchise category are ambulance operators, taxi companies, tow trucks that are on police and fire department rotations and trash haulers.
Ultimately it is elected officials, usually based upon the guidance and recommendation of the administration or management of the government structures they head, who make decisions to determine which development projects will be allowed and which ones will not, which company will get contracts to deliver goods and provide services and which ones won’t be able to market their wares or talents to the government, which applicants for franchises will be selected and which ones will be rejected.
The six years Postmus spent in office at the head of county government and the two years he headed a primary division of the county government gave him a close-up window on how government operates and its vulnerabilities. At this stage he is using his intimate knowledge of those vulnerabilities to assist those who want to exploit government for their own purposes.
A safeguard built into government in California meant to protect the state and its taxpayers consists of the competitive bidding requirements that apply to most public contracts. Generally, when a municipal or county government or an agency or district in California seeks goods or needs work performed or services provided, it engages in a bid process by making what is referred to as a request for proposals or request for qualifications relating to a certain task, inviting vendors to submit a bid for a specified item, set of items or product or, in the case of services, a bid on a specifically outlined job or undertaking. In most cases, those bids are confidential ones, literally sealed in an envelope that would betray itself as having been opened if the seal is breached prior to the official unsealing of the bids. Only bids deemed responsive to or in keeping with the requested service or project description are considered. The individual, entity or company providing the lowest responsive bid is awarded the contract.
There is a subset of governmental contracts, however, which are exempt from competitive bid requirements. Among the services Postmus now provides is to “politically wire” things so that those companies intent on gaining these governmental contracts that are exempt from competitive bids can land those contracts. Postmus does this by delivering money provided by his client seeking such a no-bid contract to the politicians who must ultimately approve the contract.
A case in point is that of Alliance Building Solutions, a company owned by Brad Chapman. Alliance Business Solutions has grown over the past 58 years from a relatively small mechanical contractor to a mid-size electrical, mechanical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning company with a specialized sideline in efficientizing buildings and facilities in terms of energy use, including augmenting them with insulation, reducing electricity consumption, installing solar panels on roofs and south-facing walls and the like.
In recent years, Alliance Building Solutions succeeded in obtaining from the cities of Fontana, Rialto and Upland no-bid contracts for such energy efficiency makeovers. An exception to the competitive bid requirement for public agencies and governments in California relates to energy efficiency projects. As long as a public agency or government can demonstrate that the work or service to be provided will result in improved energy efficiency or a reduction in fuel or energy use as well as show that some savings in cost will accrue to the entity contracting for the service, it need not conduct a bidding process but can simply award a contract to a provider of that service, even if another contractor is available to do the work at lower cost.
By hiring Postmus to lobby on his behalf, Chapman made sure that the no-bid contracts that Fontana, Rialto and Upland engaged in to make their facilities more energy efficient went to Alliance Building Solutions rather than any of a multitude of other companies that provide the same service, including ones that would do the work at a lesser cost, in some cases significantly lesser cost.
At present, Postmus is awork seeking to get Fontana to enter into further contracts with Alliance Building Solutions, and he is similarly engaged in lining up no-bid contract work for Allied Building Solutions with the County of San Bernardino.
Key to that effort in Fontana is Postmus coordinating with Mayor Acquanetta Warren, to whose electioneering fund he has already served as a conduit to vector tens of thousands of dollars in donations from a variety of donors, as well as with Phil Cothran Sr, the father of Fontana City Councilman Phil Cothran Jr. Since early 2021, Phil Cothran Sr has been the chairman of the San Bernardino Country Republican Central Committee, the position Postmus once held. Phil Cothran Sr is no stranger to political fundraising, having been involved in Fontana politics for some time, historically as one of the top four or five campaign donors active in Fontana. In particular, Phil Cothran Sr has been a major patron of Warren, who was appointed to the council in 2002, was elected and then reelected as councilwoman in 2004 and 2008, and elected mayor in 2010. It was with Phil Cothran Sr’s backing that Warren was able to solidify her political grip on the city. As his involvement with the Republican Party has intensified in recent years, Phil Cothran Sr has become more and more involved in touching others for donations to the causes and the candidates he believes in. Upon becoming chairman of the central committee, he did not hesitate to turn to Postmus for assistance in raising money for the party and the party’s candidates, based in large measure on the historic success Postmus achieved in his fundraising efforts. According to one source with a window on behind-the-scenes developments within the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, Phil Cothran Sr has delegated to Postmus and to Dakota Higgins, an elected member of the Republican Central Committee who is also the assistant chief of staff to San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Paul Cook, management of the county central committee’s fundraising efforts.
An element of Postmus’s fundraising success has always been and continues to be his understanding that donors, if they are going to be truly generous, need to be confident they are getting something in return for their donations. Postmus has long recognized donors must have confidence that they are receiving something real in return rather than something insubstantial and intangible beyond simply “access.” In practical terms, that means conveying to the donors that they are buying favorable treatment in the future from the politicians they are donating to, whether that will be approval of their project proposals, approval of their contracts to provide goods or services to the city, county or agency the politician heads or the granting or continuation of a franchise to that donor or his/her company. In this way, donations are considered investments, ones by which pennies can be transubstantiated into veritable fortunes. Postmus is able to easily convince those transacting business locally that it is in their interest to provide $1,000 or $2,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 up front to an officeholder with an assurance that when the time comes, the politician who received that money will vote to approve action that allows an enterprise by which that donor will see a profit in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
A problem is that such exchanges of money for votes are illegal. While under California law a politician can receive a political donation from an individual or entity who has business before an elected board or panel of which that politician is a member and then vote on matters relating to that donor and/or his/her company or undertaking, those donations and the receiving of the donations cannot be conditional. That is, a politician cannot commit or promise to take any official action or vote as an official in exchange for a donation. Such an arrangement is a quid pro quo, which in Latin means “this for that.” Engaging in a quid pro quo is tantamount to bribery.
What Postmus has done is to construct for his clients and many of San Bernardino County’s politicians – the bribers and the bribe-takers – what is simultaneously a simple and complex fiction that can be maintained, one that holds that bribery is not occurring. Postmus instructs his client to either make a donation directly to a politician or in the alternative to entrust the money to him so he can filter the money to that politician. Postmus or someone working with him in the same timeframe approaches the politician to explain what it is that the donor wants to achieve and how that goal at some point is dependent upon a vote by the politician and his or her colleagues in the future. An understanding is achieved all the way around as to what is to occur. In this way, the donor and the politician may likely never meet or exchange so much as pleasantries and both the donor and the politician can truthfully say, if either or both is ever queried about the relationship between the donation and the vote, that they never met, never spoke and as such could not have concluded between themselves a corrupt and illegal deal.
In Fontana, both Mayor Warren and Phil Cothran Jr are vying for reelection this year. Warren and Phil Cothran Sr have been the co-architects of the younger Cothran’s political career. Postmus has through the conveyance of Chapman’s money to various campaign funds – those of Warren, Cothran Jr and the GOP fund controlled by Cothran Sr as the head of the San Bernardino County Republican Party – secured Warren’s and Cothran Jr’s future votes for granting Allied Building Solutions no-bid contracts on further energy efficiency conversions of city facilities which will exclude the consideration of granting those contracts to Allied Building Solutions’ competitors in the industry. This has extended itself to ensuring that Warren’s other two allies on the council – John Roberts and Pete Garcia – will approve the Allied Building Solutions contracts when they are considered by the city council.
Simultaneously, Postmus is seeking to work his magic on behalf of Alliance Building Solutions with the governmental structure in San Bernardino County, where given the sheer size of San Bernardino County – a land area larger than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut and New Hampshire, combined – the number of county buildings and facilities represent potential contracts worth well in excess of $100 million to the company or companies that can gain contracts to uprate their energy efficiency.
Accordingly, Postmus has already effectively moved to purchase influence with three of the county’s five supervisors – having essentially slipped them into his hip pocket – and is gunning mightily to take ownership of a fourth.
Three of the current members of the board of supervisors – Curt Hagman, Paul Cook and Dawn Rowe – have what is perhaps best described as a schizophrenic relationship with Bill Postmus. Within the political and top-level governmental bubble in which they function that includes their board colleagues, other politicians they consider to be their political allies, their own staffs, the senior administrative/management of the county and their political supporters and the electioneering networks they coordinate with, Hagman, Cook and Rowe make no secret of, indeed seem to be proud of and will even brag about, their closeness to Postmus and the degree to which they seek his advice and adhere to his counsel. Outside that circle, however, they are loathe to acknowledge the interaction they have had and continue to have with him. They are aware of Postmus’s history, his convictions and his reputation for dirty and underhanded politics. Though the scandals he involved himself in occurred more than a decade in the past and much or even all of what they entailed has faded from the collective public consciousness, the three understand that open association with him could prove exceedingly difficult, particularly if a committed political opponent comes into possession of too many of the details of that association.
As a consequence, the working out of the intricacies of the arrangements of what Postmus wants accomplished has been entrusted to the support networks around the supervisors and within the senior levels of the county bureaucracy. There are two immediate benefits to the supervisors from this approach. Firstly, it insulates the supervisors from Postmus, perpetuating their ostensible separation from him. Secondly, it makes for a situation in which the action eventually taken to benefit Postmus’s clients is the final outcome of a process during which the supervisors can claim they are merely voting in accordance with a recommendation provided to them by county staff.
Postmus has already engaged in extensive fundraising on behalf of Hagman, Cook and Rowe. And Hagman, Rowe and Cook have tolerated – indeed more than tolerated and in fact in some cases encouraged or required – that the employees of their supervisorial offices participate in their political campaigns. This was the case of both Supervisor Hagman’s former chief of staff, the late Mike Spence, and his current chief of staff, Yekaterina Kolcheva. It is equally true of Supervisor Cook’s chief of staff, Tim Itnyre, and his deputy chief of staff, Dakota Higgins, both of whom were heavily involved in the campaigns that got Cook reelected to Congress in 2016 and 2018, when they were members of his Congressional staff, as well as elected supervisor in 2020. Supervisor Rowe’s chief of staff, Matt Knox, who was formerly a member of Cook’s Congressional staff along with Rowe, Itnyre and Higgins, worked on Cook’s Congressional races as well, playing a particularly important part in thwarting Cook’s most aggressive opponent, Tim Donnelly, in 2018. Following Rowe’s appointment to the board of supervisors in 2018, Knox was hired by Rowe to serve as her chief of staff. He then played a major role in running her successful election campaign in 2020 to retain her position as Third District county supervisor.
While the practice of allowing employees working within the governmental offices of elected officials to become heavily involved in those officials’ electoral campaigns is not limited solely to San Bernardino County, it is as widespread here, or more, than anywhere else. In this way, the distinction between government and politics has become utterly blurred, and those who have decried the situation have been marginalized as unrealistic idealists or dismissed entirely as cranks. The seeming ubiquity of political operatives on the staffs of the county’s top tier decision-makers has created a situation in which policy is shaped to benefit those willing to sustain a particular supervisor in office through the provision of substantial political donations and thus perpetuate the employment of that supervisor’s staff members in high-paying positions they would be unlikely to achieve in the private sector.
Kolcheva is provided with a salary and pay add-ons of $145,892.46 yearly plus benefits of $52,996.35 for a total annual compensation of $198,888.81. Itnyre earns $133,807.27 in salary and pay add-ons plus $49,313.94 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $183,121.21. Matt Knox’s salary and add-ons are $164,013.89, which together with his benefits of $57,602.95 gives him a total annual compensation of $221,616.84. Higgins is provided with a salary and pay add-ons of $113,061.20 per year plus $41,922.09, for a total annual compensation of $154,983.29. The salaries and benefits provided to the senior staff members of the supervisors creates for them an incentive to keep the supervisors in office, such that they often find it expedient to assist those who are contributing to the political campaigns of their employers to assist those donors in achieving the goals they are pursuing.
Thus, Postmus has found ready allies in Kolcheva, Itnyre and Knox, as well as Higgins, with whom he has a secondary relationship as co-coordinator of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee’s fundraising efforts.
Every bit if not more important to Postmus’s political operations targeting county government in San Bernardino County are the two senior staff members for the county overall, County Chief Executive Officer Leonard Hernandez and County Chief Operating Officer Luther Snoke.
Though both Hernandez and Snoke ostensibly are devoted to running the county and are supposed to be immune from political influences, both are highly attuned to political nuance. Word throughout the county governmental structure, particularly in county departments such as real estate and land use services, is that both Hernandez and Snoke know that Postmus has delivered and is continuing to deliver political grease to supervisors Hagman, Rowe and Cook to get their acquiescence with regard to a whole host of projects and contracts that the board has already considered and voted upon as well as upcoming items that will be brought before the supervisors.
Hernandez and Snoke are cognizant of the political money laundering operation Postmus has set up and that the board majority expects of them both that they facilitate the approval of the projects and the awarding of the contracts that Postmus’s clients are pursuing. According to sources within the county, neither Hernandez nor Snoke are recipients of the payoffs being provided to Hagman, Cook and Rowe. Rather, Hernandez and Snoke are playing their parts in the tangle of bribery, money laundering, no-bid contracts, foreordained project approvals, the waiving of requirements, the suspension of codes and regulations and the corruption of the basic functions of county government in order to maintain themselves in their lucrative county positions.
At present, Snoke is provided with a total annual compensation of $383,129.46, consisting of a $225,812.94 salary, additional pay of $29,030.71 and benefits of $128,285.81.
Hernandez’s salary of $378,294.27 when added to his other pay of $40,088.80 plus benefits of $190,542.89 gives him a total annual compensation of $608,925.96.
County employees have told the Sentinel that Hernandez and Snoke risk being fired or demoted if they do not facilitate the advancement of Postmus’s clients in their application for project and contract approvals.
Both Hernandez and Snoke declined to respond to a series of questions posed to them by the Sentinel, including whether they were being pressured by the members of the board of supervisors or by Postmus directly to provide recommendations to the board of supervisors that they vote to approve projects by proponents represented by Postmus or award contracts to companies that are employing Postmus as a lobbyist.
County employees have told the Sentinel that both Hernandez and Snoke know that supervisors Hagman, Rowe and Cook are on the take and are going along with the arrangements to keep a hold on their respective high-compensation positions. Hernandez is aware, the Sentinel was told, that Postmus made an arrangement for Supervisor Rowe to get a $1.2 million house in Redlands as a means of securing her cooperation and that a deal has been cut with Supervisor Cook to engineer the election of Itnyre as his successor with Cook’s retirement in 2024.
Reports were that Hernandez and Snoke have met with Postmus directly, at which meetings Postmus instructed them on how to structure future county action to meet with his clients’ expectations.
Among the questions both Hernandez and Snoke declined to answer were ones on whether each of them have had recent interaction with Postmus. The Sentinel on February 3 made requests of the county under the California Public Records Act, seeking Hernandez’s and Snoke’s calendars going back to September 2020, when each moved into their respective positions as county chief executive officer and county chief operating officer, to ascertain if they have been meeting with Postmus. On February 28, the county responded to those requests stating that Hernandez’s and Snoke’s calendars would not be provided as they are “exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act.”
Snoke is front-ending for Allied Building Solutions, and is preparing to present a series of proposals that the county modernize more than a dozen of its facilities and buildings with energy efficiency conversions, the Sentinel was informed. Even though the county could carry out a competitive bidding process to enlist a contractor to do that work, county employees told the Sentinel, when that proposal is presented, Snoke will utilize the exemption in state law allowing energy efficiency projects to be undertaken without engaging in a competitive bid process, and will deliver a recommendation that the contracts be conferred upon Allied Building Solutions.
One giveaway that both Hernandez and Snoke are coordinating county programs in a way that is favorable toward Postmus and Postmus’s clients consists of the virtual carte blanche that has been provided to Tri-Land at the county’s land use services department. Tri-Land is a company co-owned by Postmus and his longtime business partner and political associate, John Dino DeFazio.
DeFazio was so emboldened by his association with Postmus and the confidence that Postmus can pull strings improperly at the county that he was attempting to negotiate the fees and charges, which are uniformly set, for obtaining permits to proceed with his projects in the county’s unincorporated areas, according to one statement provided to the Sentinel.
In his effort to profiteer by the newfound societal tolerance of marijuana in California, Postmus did not limit himself to merely representing would-be cannabis entrepreneurs. He also engaged as a silent partner in a marijuana cultivation and marketing enterprise headed by DeFazio. The Postmus/DeFazio marijuana-based company is among those the sheriff’s department has assumed a hands-off approach toward while pursuing the closure of over 800 cultivation operations elsewhere in the county.
Postmus, as the former First District Supervisor, has especial contact and entrée with the current First District supervisor, Paul Cook, and his supervisorial office staff.
Last year Postmus was able to replicate a coup he had pulled off several years ago as he was working his way into political shape.
In 2014, Postmus had assisted his longtime political associate Paul Russ in his successful effort to get elected to the Hesperia City Council. Two years later, while Postmus was aiding Rebekah Swanson, another political associate from his past, in her ultimately successful run for the city council, Russ, at Postmus’s instigation, ran for First District county supervisor. Joining Russ in the race was another member of the Hesperia City Council, Bill Holland. Perhaps at Postmus’s suggestion, neither Russ nor Holland assailed one another, almost as if they were running in tandem against the incumbent, Robert Lovingood, and two other challengers. During the course of the campaign, Russ and Holland were provided with $19,000 and $16,000, respectively, by Wyn Holmes and Randall Friend, the principals in a Newport Beach-based company known as Eagle 55. Eagle 55 at that time was pursuing approval of the first phase of “The Villas,” a senior citizens apartment complex. A specified number of the units were reserved for low-to-moderate-income, low-income and very low-income residents. Holmes and Friend sought clearance to proceed with the project without having to engage in a bidding competition against other builders. Moreover, they applied for a virtually interest-free $3.8 million loan to be used toward completing the $13 million project. The Hesperia City Council, including Russ and Holland, that year voted to give the project go-ahead and Holmes and Friend the $3.8 million loan.
Subsequently, the California Fair Political Practices Commission looked into the matter, initially on the basis that the $19,000 and $16,000 donations were violations of the county’s then-$4,200 per donor campaign contribution cap. Ultimately, the California Fair Political Practices Commission took action against Holmes and Friend, imposing fines on them, which both deemed to be part of the price of doing business in San Bernardino County. The Fair Political Practices Commission action did not overturn the approval of the first phase of The Villas project, and it was completed.
Hesperia, at this point wary of further damage to its reputation if state agencies such as the Fair Political Practices Commission continue to exercise an interest in the action of its city council, is no longer willing to associate itself with Holmes, Friend or Eagle 55 in connection to taxpayer-subsidized construction efforts at The Villas complex. Last year, Postmus approached Supervisor Cook as well as Itnyre and Higgins, importuning them to work with Holmes and Friend in undertaking and completing phase 2 of The Villas 55+ Senior Community project. Cook, Itnyre and Higgins prevailed upon Hernandez to explore the possibility of the project being carried out under the auspices of county government, despite the consideration that it is located not within the county’s unincorporated area but within the City of Hesperia. Hernandez handed the assignment of dealing with the project off to Snoke.
Based upon Postmus’s relationship with him as a fundraiser, confident, advisor, predecessor in the office of First District supervisor and “friend,” Supervisor Cook assented to use money from the county’s special discretionary fund for specific priorities in the First District to initiate the second phase of Eagle 55’s The Villas project. On December 14, 2021, Hernandez and Snoke, utilizing a staff report authored by Snoke which was presented by Hernandez to the board of supervisors, facilitated the board of supervisors’ consideration and passage of action approving a $5.5 million affordable housing loan to Eagle Hesperia 55 II, L.P. for the construction of the second phase of The Villas. Both Hernandez and Snoke recommended that the loan be made. The action taken in accordance with their recommendation made it so that no bidding on the project took place and the requirement that Eagle 55 pay prevailing wage or union scale wages to the construction workers on the project was waived.
The Sentinel has learned that Bill Postmus and DeFazio are minority owners in Eagle 55. Bill Postmus’s activity in providing money to Supervisor Hagman, Supervisor Rowe and Supervisor Cook suggests a quid pro quo arrangement.
The Sentinel is informed that both Hernandez and Snoke were aware during the county’s dealings with Eagle 55 with regard to the $5.5 million affordable housing loan for The Villas project that Postmus and DeFazio had a financial interest in the Eagle 55 ventures.
San Bernardino County Chief Deputy Controller Vanessa Doyle signed off on the county providing the loan to Eagle 55. The Sentinel initiated several inquiries with Doyle, both in the form of an electronically carbon copied email exploring the subject sent to other high-ranking county officials and phone messages for her left directly at her office. Among the questions Doyle did not respond to was whether it was made clear to her that Postmus and DeFazio had a financial stake in the Eagle 55 project and whether she independently had developed precise knowledge as to the fundraising and political money laundering activity Postmus had engaged in on behalf of Hagman, Cook and Rowe before she affixed her imprimatur and that of the county auditor-controller’s office on the $5.5 million affordable housing loan for The Villas project. Doyle did not respond to the Sentinel.
The Sentinel did succeed in reaching Doyle’s ultimate boss, Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector Ensen Mason.
Mason did not explicitly say whether Doyle knew about the tangle of relationships involving Hagman, Cook, Rowe, Postmus, DeFazio, Holmes and Friend prior to her certification of the loan, though he suggested that information would not have been provided to her.
“Our role is very limited,” Mason said with regard to the auditor-controller’s participation in the consideration of the county’s issuance of the loan. “It is merely an accounting function.”
He said of Doyle, “All she did was review the financing numbers to say they were correct. I don’t believe determining whether or not that particular company should have been eligible for a loan has anything to do with what our function is. The supervisors are an independently elected body. What they are doing is completely out of my wheelhouse by design because they answer to the public, not to me. I don’t know if providing that company with the loan violated any of the county’s policies or not. If the issue is how they voted, that is something you need to ask them about.”
The Sentinel, having already sought to obtain from Hagman, Cook, Rowe, Hernandez, and Snoke their version of why they have allowed Postmus, more than a decade after his political career imploded in scandal, to advance to a position in which he has reasserted in a very real sense control over the county’s governmental structure, at Mason’s suggestion redoubled those efforts. None was willing to go on the record.
Last year, the Sentinel did manage to flag down Cook at a fundraiser being put on by Postmus at the Tartan in Redlands, asking him if he thought it wise, given Postmus’s history, for the county’s leadership to be associating itself with him and allowing him to raise political funds on the supervisors’ behalf.
“That’s politics,” Cook said, shrugging. He said that Postmus had been processed by the justice system, paid his debt to society and should be allowed to participate in an arena – politics – in which he had shown true talent.
According to county employees, Principal Assistant County Counsel Julie Surber and Deputy County Counsel Suzanne Bryant are knowledgeable about illegitimate goings-on behind the scenes at the county and issues involving Postmus and his distribution of political grease to county officials. Surber and Bryant have been brought face-to-face with the circumstance, the county employees say, because the manipulations of county officials Postmus is engaged in on behalf of his clients come into conflict with county Policy 11-01, which specifies that all procurements are to be solicited on a competitive basis.
The Sentinel has been unsuccessful in getting Surber or Bryant to open up with regard to what they know, which is not unsurprising given that they are technically Hagman’s, Cook’s, Rowe’s, Hernandez’s and Snoke’s legal representatives, and are bound by the principle of attorney-client confidentiality.
In 2020, then-Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales was prevented from seeking reelection as a consequence of the county’s term limits. Four competitors to replace her emerged that electoral season, including then-Fontana Councilman Jesse Armendarez, who was then a member of Mayor Acquanetta Warren’s ruling coalition.
Postmus was active in the effort to support Armendarez’s candidacy for Fifth District supervisor. Armendarez raised $991,766.52 for that campaign, including $214,523.03 in 2019, $578,993.79 during 2020 and $55,871.79 in 2021 after the race was concluded. Armendarez expended $721,371.70 in calendar 2020 on both the March primary and November general elections and managed to poll 26.88 percent in the March primary, which was good enough to overcome third-place and fourth-place finishers Dan Flores and Nadia Renner, who, respectively collected $237,919.42 and $19,164.35 in donations, spent $251,463.11 and $21,240.09 on electioneering efforts and polled 18.14 percent and 14.76 percent in the primary. Second place was good enough to get Armendarez into the November final against Baca, who received 40.22 percent for first place in the March race. Baca collected $484,262.80, for his entire campaign, including $88,213 in 2019 and $396,049 in 2020 and spent $474,370.80 overall. In the November 2020 final, Baca triumphed solidly over Armendarez, 58.49 percent to 41.51 percent.
Last year, in accordance with the 2020 Census, San Bernardino County reset its district maps. In the previous map, roughly two-thirds of Fontana, that portion on its westernmost side, was in the Second Supervisorial District, with approximately one third of the city on the east side in the Fifth District. With the redrawing of the county district map in 2021, all of Fontana was placed in the Second District.
Both Armendarez and Renner, who live on the east side of Fontana, have now qualified their candidacies for Second District supervisor in this year’s race. Also in the contest are Cucamonga Valley Water District Board Member Luis Cetina; Eric Eugene Coker, the previous president of Me Management Solutions and the current owner of PC Pricebusters; and DeJonaé Shaw, a licensed vocational nurse.
Postmus, Hagman, Cook and Rowe have endorsed Armendarez, along with Warren and councilmen Cothran, Garcia and Roberts.
At the highest level of the county there is concern about a group of county employees who are knowledgeable about what corners have been cut and what deals have been made involving quid pro quos and the suspension of policy and the law. That concern extends to the possibility that those employees will initiate action that could prove highly problematic for multiple members of the county’s political and governmental establishment. Efforts have begun to trace out who those “disloyalists” are, the Sentinel is told.
A department head considered disloyal is Real Estate Services Director Terry Thompson. Assuming Hagman, whose second term as supervisor is coming to a close this year, is reelected and Armendarez gains election, Thompson will be sacked, the Sentinel is informed, shortly after Armendarez is sworn in.
More than a decade after he was convicted on 14 felony political corruption charges, Bill Postmus has made his way back into the thick of San Bernardino County politics by constructing political money laundering operations which he has put at the disposal of a number of current elected officials, including Supervisors Curt Hagman, Dawn Rowe and Paul Cook.