SBC Officials Loading Up To Skim Millions From Energy Efficiency Contracts

By Mark Gutglueck
With the reelection of Paul Cook and Dawn Rowe as supervisors in the First District and Third District and no one contesting Joe Baca Jr. in his run for supervisor in the county’s Fifth District, the table has been set for a graftfest that is to involve kickbacks extending to more than $10 million in exchange for uncontested and noncompetitive county contracts worth well in excess of $100 million over the next decade-and-a-half.
A key figure in the plan to skim money from funds the county is already earmarking for more than two dozen energy efficiency contracts, the first of which was actuated in October, is Bill Postmus, who more than a decade-and-a-half ago established himself as the central actor in the largest governmental corruption scandal in San Bernardino County history.
Implicated along with Postmus in the already ongoing massive scale violation of the public trust are First District Supervisor Paul Cook, Second District Supervisor Jesse Armendarez, Third District Supervisor and current Board Chairwoman Dawn Rowe, Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman, Fifth District Supervisor Joe Baca Jr. and County Chief Executive Officer Luther Snoke, as well as the entrepreneur whose company, Allied Business Solutions, has now been positioned to obtain a series of no-bid contracts with the county to upgrade facilities, i.e., buildings which house county offices.
The diversion is to take place through arrangements using the noncompetitive bid process which are intended to increase the amount of money the county’s taxpayers would pay if a standard public bidding process were used in contracting for the work. The inflated contracts will provide Allied Business Solutions with a profit margin substantial enough to warrant providing kickbacks to the full range of public officials that have to be taken care of in order for the scheme to proceed.
Essential to this manipulation is the exploitation of an exemption in California law which allows a governmental entity undertaking any projects aimed at increasing energy in public facilities to bypass a normal state requirement applicable to governmental contracts requiring those contracts to be subject to a competitive bid process by which the contract is awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.
Allied Business Solutions, assisted by Postmus, previously perfected the influence purchasing formula on a smaller scale by securing no-bid contracts with three San Bernardino County cities, and is now replicating that success in the first of what are projected to be multiple phases with the county’s governmental structure.
Central to what is being carried off is the 53-year-old Postmus, a now disgraced politician, who knows as much or more about both the legitimate and illegitimate function of local government than virtually any other current or former officeholder in the state.
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 Turner in 1895. That same year he also acceded to the chairmanship 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 assuming the most powerful taxing position in San Bernardino County.
He was 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 some two dozen eventual officeholders – 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 of county property, 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 exchanging his votes as supervisor, which extended to conferring a $102 million legal settlement on his largest political donor in return for a $50,000 donation to an entity he controlled, the Conservatives for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, and a second $50,000 donation to another outfit he had founded, the Inland Empire Political Action Committee. 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.
His guilty pleas entailed an agreement that he cooperate in the prosecution of those involved with him in the depredations he had admitted to. 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 his alleged co-conspirators. His sentencing on the crimes he had pleaded guilty to was held in abeyance until the prosecution of his co-conspirators could conclude, so that the degree to which his cooperation with authorities could be assessed. Postmus’s conviction on the Government Code Section 1090 public official conflict of interest charge carried with it a ban for life from holding elected public office in California.
Pretrial legal sparring between prosecutors and the lawyers for the co-conspirators he was expected to testify against and appeals relating to several of the court’s rulings resulted in the trial being delayed by more than six-and-a-half years. During the interim from the indictment to the trial, Postmus found himself languishing. Though he could no longer hold elected office, he longed to get back into the political game. Some four years after he had resigned from office, he hit upon a way to not only once more make himself politically relevant, even if he was no longer in office, and make a substantial amount of money at the same time.
Sizing up the situation, Postmus recognized that his having been involved in bribetaking and other forms of graft and corruption and then getting caught gave him an uncommon degree of insight with regard to the pitfalls awaiting politicians who sell their office. He had gained, through his time in office, his arrests and ensuing prosecution and conviction, 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 had 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 resolved to put that knowledge and insight to work.
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.
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 has managed to remain as a power broker in San Bernardino County political circles.
The trial for his alleged co-conspirators took place over the course of nine months in 2017, during which Postmus was called as a prosecution witness. Three of his co-conspirators were acquitted. The jury deadlocked and was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the charges against a fourth. 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.
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. Thereafter, with Brosowske advantaged by being able to do so as a council incumbent, Brosowske, again with Postmus’s advice and support, in November 2018 was elected to the Hesperia City Council in his own right.
That same month, Postmus’s sentencing by Judge Michael A. Smith on 14 guilty pleas on political corruption charges he had entered in 2011, took place. Judge Smith 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, his assertion of having undergone a religious conversion and a series of political favors he had done for San Bernardino County’s then-Sheriff, John McMahon and McMahon’s political allies, Postmus was released from custody in August 2019, more than 27 months early.
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.
Though during his original incarnation as a politician in the early 2000s, Postmus had held himself out as an arch-conservative, one who was dedicated to holding the line, with so many of his Republican cohorts, against the cannabis legalization or decriminalization that had come about because of the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, he reinvented himself as a representative of those seeking permits and licensing to engage in the sale of marijuana in San Bernardino County in the aftermath of the 2016 passage of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Whereas in his capacity as a supervisor from 2000 until 2006 Postmus openly referred to marijuana use as “immoral,” 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 while vowing legalized availability of marijuana would never happen in San Bernardino County as long as he was in office, upon the legalization of the substance, Postmus turned on a dime and not only 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 Needles, Adelanto, Hesperia and San Bernardino, which had liberalized their ordinances with regard to the drug, but became purveyor of marijuana himself by virtue of his partnership with his longtime political and business associate, John “Dino” DeFazio, in one such establishment in Needles.
Postmus was suddenly in the thick of the movement to marijuanaize San Bernardino County, a play caller among the teams of applicants swarming into Adelanto City Hall and San Bernardino’s community development division with briefcases stuffed with cash to bribe the likes of former Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr, former Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright, former San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia and current San Bernardino Councilman Juan Figueroa. He was similarly the brains behind finding creative ways of retaining or paying commissions to former Adelanto Councilman John Woodard or, once Kerr and Wright were indicted and on their way to prison and Woodard was voted out of office, delivering political donations or subsidizations to current Adelanto Mayor Gabriel Reyes and Adelanto City Manager Jessie Flores to make sure they stayed the course toward converting Adelanto to a marijuana-based economy.
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, former Assemblyman Thurston “Smitty” Smith, San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Cook, San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman and San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, Postmus prompted the sheriff’s department to carry out an intensive effort of more than two years’ duration aimed 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 the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors granted the sheriff’s department a $4 million augmentation to the 2021-22 San Bernardino County Budget and a similar add-on to sheriff’s department operations in 2022-2023. The extent to which Postmus had become effective in front-ending for the cannabis industry was given clear demonstration on June 8, 2021, when just prior to his resignation as San Bernardino County’s highest ranking law enforcement officer, Sheriff John McMahon, who had spent a significant portion of his 35-plus year career in law enforcement putting marijuana users and traffickers in jail, appeared before the Apple Valley Town Council, making a presentation in which he depicted the licensed and permitted cultivators who were subject to taxation as earnest, decent, law-abiding and upstanding members of the community who were being victimized by the bad guys, the unlicensed and unpermitted marijuana growers functioning in the county’s desert areas who were not paying taxes on their crops.
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. In terms of sheer volume, however, the lion’s share of Postmus’s political activity has consisted in advancing the interests of those seeking to obtain governmental approval for businesses operations which have traditionally been deemed lawful and legitimate, ones making applications for property development or construction projects or those seeking to compete for government service or supply contracts or to be awarded franchises that are controlled by various governmental entities.
For many of those who see government as a cash cow – vendors who sell products and equipment used by cities and counties or developers or providers of services used in municipal or governmental operations or franchisees such as ambulance operators, taxi companies, tow truck operation that are on police and fire department rotations and trash haulers – 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 which determine whether their businesses profit and thrive, merely survive and subsist or whether their businesses will fail. Those elected officials more often than not are the arbiters of 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 a request for qualifications relating to a certain task, inviting vendors to submit a bid for a specified item, product or set of items or, in the case of services, a bid on a specifically outlined job or undertaking. In most cases, those bids are confidentially submitted, 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, substituting modern appliances or equipment that require less electricity to function than that previously in place, 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.
Postmus lined up no-bid contract work for Allied Building Solutions with Fontana by coordinating with Mayor Acquanetta Warren, to whose electioneering fund he has served as a conduit to vector tens of thousands of dollars in donations from a variety of donors. Warren, who was appointed to the council in 2002, was elected and then reelected as councilwoman in 2004 and 2008, elected mayor in 2010 and reelected to that post in 2014, 2018 and 2022, with no little assistance from Postmus.
One of Warren’s firm-and-fast allies on the four-member ruling coalition she has assembled to be able to dominate Fontana City Hall is Phil Cothran Jr., the son of one of her major patrons, Phil Cothran Sr. Over the years, it has been with Phil Cothran Sr.’s backing that Warren has been able to solidify her political grip on the city. Since early 2021, Phil Cothran Sr. has been the chairman of the San Bernardino County 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 three decades and, within the last ten years, he has branched out to be a major fundraiser for Republicans in general throughout San Bernardino County. 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 when he headed the San Bernardino County Republican Party. 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 assurance that they are receiving something real in return rather than something insubstantial and intangible beyond simple “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 in which that donor has an interest to see a profit in the tens of thousands or 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 Mountain States Consulting Group’s clients and many of San Bernardino County’s politicians – the bribers and the bribetakers – 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 might not even meet or do so much as exchange pleasantries. In such cases, 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.
Having seen to it that Alliance Building Solutions was acclimated into the real world of pay-for-play politics by its success with the Upland, Fontana and Rialto no-bid energy efficiency makeovers, Postmus in 2021 turned his attention toward the big fish – the governmental structure in San Bernardino County. 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 and potentially exceeding $200 million to the company or companies that can gain contracts to upgrade their energy efficiency.
At this point, Postmus, has already effectively moved to purchase influence with the four of the county’s five Republican supervisors – Cook, Armendarez, Rowe and Hagman, and has slipped them into his pocket. In 2021, he found himself in the advantageous position of having already once before secured for Alliance Building Solutions the support of the board’s single Democrat, Joe Baca Jr. Four years previously, when Baca was still a member of the Rialto City Council, that city had entered into a no-bid arrangement with Alliance Building Services for an energy services contract involving installing solar panels, efficient lighting, air-conditioning and control and monitoring systems at Rialto City Hall and other municipal facilities.
Cook, Rowe and Hagman have what is perhaps best described as a schizophrenic relationship with 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, Cook, Rowe and Hagman 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 a decade-and-a-half ago and much or even all of what that 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. This provides the supervisors with two immediate benefits. 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 in wherein the supervisors can claim they are merely voting in accordance with a recommendation provided to them by county staff.
Under Postmus’s guidance, Chapman has become a robust political donor, one whose contributions are not driven by ideology or partisanship but rather for the calculated practical effect his generosity will have on his business prospects by currying favor with incumbent officeholders. Since 2020, according to the California Secretary of State, Chapman has made seven judiciously placed contributions totaling $37,100 to recipients on both sides of the political spectrum. Those included $10,000 to the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and donations of $5,500, $4,900, $4,900 and $2,000 to ActBlue California, a political action committee and fundraising platform devoted to the support of Democratic and left-leaning politicians and non-profit organizations.
Postmus, who had previously engaged in extensive fundraising on behalf of Hagman, Cook and Rowe, likewise participated in the effort to endow the successful 2022 election campaign of the county’s newest supervisor, Jesse Armendarez. Historically it has been the case that 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 and again earlier this month, when he prevailed against four opponents with 32,325 of the 50,536, or 63.96 percent, of the votes in the First District counted thus far.
Supervisor Rowe’s original 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. Rowe’s current chief of staff, Claire Cozad, was indispensable to Rowe’s reelection campaign this year, in which she bested three of those running against her with an even 41,000 of the 69,760 votes cast in the Third District a week and a half ago, equal to 58.77 percent. Previously, in Cook’s maiden campaign for U.S. Congress in 2012, Cozad was one of his precinct workers.
While the ethically questionable but yet legal 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 $143,246.79 in salary, is provided with $24,787.50 in pay add-ons plus $76,449.06 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $244,483.35. Claire Cozad’s salary is $152,288.82 with add-ons of $24,579.02, together with benefits of $66,432.21 giving her a total annual compensation of $243,300.05. Higgins is provided with a salary of $114,247.47, pay add-ons of $17,954.49 plus $57,179.14 in benefits, for a total annual compensation of $189,381.10. 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 Cozad, 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 is the county’s senior staff member, County Chief Executive Officer Luther Snoke.
Though Snoke ostensibly is devoted to running the county and is supposed to be immune from political influences, he is 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 Snoke knows Postmus has delivered and is continuing to deliver political grease to supervisors Cook, Armendarez, Rowe and Hagman 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.
Snoke is cognizant of the political money laundering operation Postmus has set up and that the board majority expects him to facilitate the approval of the projects and the awarding of the contracts that Mountain States Consulting Group’s clients are pursuing. According to sources within the county, Snoke is not directly on the take and is not a recipient of the payoffs being provided to Cook, Armendarez, Rowe and Hagman. Nevertheless, Snoke is playing his part 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 his lucrative county position.
Snoke is provided with a total annual compensation of $643,368.80, consisting of a $379,187 salary, add-ons and perquisites of $40,088.80 and benefits of $224,093.
County employees have told the Sentinel that Snoke would risk being fired if he does not facilitate the advancement of Mountain States Consulting Group’s clients in their application for project and contract approvals.
Snoke, who was formerly the county’s chief operating officer and had been functioning as the acting chief executive officer for roughly a month-and-a-half, was promoted to the chief executive officer position on September 12, 2023. Two weeks later, on September 26, Snoke was subjected to a closed session performance evaluation by the board of supervisors. Since that time, the board has held two specially-scheduled closed-door meetings, on December 20, 2023 and as recently as February 21, 2024, at which Snoke’s performance was the issue under review. Such closed-door executive meetings, held outside the presence of the public, are considered confidential, with no minutes of the board’s discussion or actions provided to the public. Knowledgeable sources have said that the performance evaluations are a tool used by the board of supervisors to keep the county’s chief executive officer in line and assure his compliance with the directives given to him through not just official channels, meaning votes of the board that have been publicly cast during open meetings and recorded and minuted as well as direction given to him during scheduled closed sessions. Those performance evaluations also serve as a reminder to Snoke that he needs to adhere to directions that have been provided to him unofficially by members of the board, outside of public votes or closed-session exchanges. Given that three votes are what is required to terminate Snoke, he is acutely conscious that if he does not adhere to Postmus’s expectation that Mountain States Consulting Group’s clients are to be taken care of, insofar as Postmus holds a vice lock on a majority of the board, companies such as Alliance Building Solutions are given red carpet treatment within the San Bernardino County Government Center.
Thrice while he was yet chief county operating officer, in April 2021, February 2022 and November 2022, the Sentinel sought from Snoke and his predecessor as chief executive officer, Leonard Hernandez, information about the county’s intentions to accommodate Postmus’s expectation that Alliance Building Solutions be provided with a series of no-bid contracts to upgrade several of the county’s facilities in terms of energy efficientization. The Sentinel inquired of both Hernandez and Snoke as to whether they would go along with Alliance Building Solutions being provided with those no-bid contracts; the degree to which they were aware of companies other than Alliance Building Solutions being capable of providing energy-saving technology upgrades to existing buildings and at what costs; whether the board of supervisors was pressuring them to facilitate the no-bid arrangements with Alliance Building Solutions; if they considered their jobs to be on the line with regard to whether the no-bid contracts with Alliance Building Solutions were facilitated; what the county’s plans were for modernizing/energy efficientizing a good number of its facilities and which ones were to be upgraded; what cost evaluations the county had done for such programs; whether the county was considering requesting proposals and an open public bid process for the facility upgrade work; whether they had drawn up a comparison on the amount of money Alliance Building Solutions would charge for that type of work and what other companies providing the same service would charge; and what justification they were prepared to give for not conducting an open bidding process for the upgrades. Point blank, the Sentinel asked Hernandez and Snoke about the validity of claims by county employees that Postmus was delivering bribes to Cook, Rowe and Hagman and had arranged political contributions to Armendarez in exchange for his commitments on votes that were to come before him upon his installation as supervisor and whether they believed it advisable for the members of the board of supervisors to have any sort of relationship with Postmus, given his criminal history and the nature of those criminal offenses and their impact on San Bernardino County’s governmental structure.
Neither Hernadez nor Snoke responded to those inquiries.
In February 2022 the Sentinel made a request under the California Public Records Act to obtain both Hernandez’s and Snoke’s calendars to determine whether they had meetings with Postmus and/or Chapman. The county denied those requests, maintaining the request was too burdensome, that complying with it would violate Hernandez’s and Snoke’s confidentiality and would be contrary to the best interests of the county.
According to the county, elected officials such as members of the board of supervisors are at liberty to take money in the form of campaign contributions from any potential source and the reception of such money does not disqualify the recipient from voting on a matter impacting that donor. The office of county counsel has advised county elected officials that they cannot take remuneration or payments in any form other than a political donation from an individual or entity with a financial interest in a matter they vote upon in their official capacity, but that after they no longer hold county office those politicians can enter into a financial relationship with a beneficiary of any actions they took while they served in an official capacity, a loophole which will allow Chapman or Alliance Business Solutions to reward Cook, Armendarez, Rowe, Hagman, Baca and any other supervisors who succeed them for their support of his service contract with the county.
Public scrutiny over Postmus’s and Chapman’s relationship with members of the board of supervisors resulted in plans to confer upon Alliance Building Solutions the first of what was to be several contracts for energy efficiency upgrades to county facilities in 2021 to be delayed. Continuing attention to the matter resulted in further postponements in 2022.
Quietly this fall, county staff put the final touches on a proposal to provide energy efficiency upgrades to the County Government Center, located at 385 North Arrowhead Avenue in San Bernardino, and another building owned by the county at 268 West Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino. The County Government Center, a five story structure near the downtown 1926 San Bernardino Courthouse that is also known informally as the Taj Mahal, houses the offices of the board of supervisors, the county chief executive officer, the county chief operating officer, the office of county counsel, the county real estate division, the land use services department, the department of public health, the department of environmental services, the office of the clerk of the board of supervisors and the meeting chambers for the board of supervisors and county commissions. The building at 268 West Hospitality Lane houses the offices for the county treasurer-tax collector, auditor and controller as well as the headquarters for the department of behavioral health, the county code enforcement division and the county library administration.
On October 24, 2023, four days after the agenda for that day’s meeting was posted and 14 days after the notice of a hearing, the board of supervisors at its second regularly scheduled meeting for October held a public hearing with regard to awarding a no-bid contract to Alliance Business Solutions in the amount of $7,880,230 for the installation of energy-efficient measures, lighting, heating ventilation and air-conditioning, system controls, and solar power panels. In addition to the installation of the equipment, the agreement included a 20-year service agreement, for which Alliance Building Solutions is to be paid $458,085 over the life of the two-decade contract, with no charge for maintenance the first year, $15,000 for the second year, and escalated at 5% annually for every subsequent year thereafter up to 20 years.
According to the staff report for the item, the undertaking, which the county dubbed the “Energy Efficiency Solutions Project,” is desirable from the standpoint that the county through its facilities management department “is seeking opportunities to incorporate environmentally preferable products, energy-efficient county building design, and construction, and substantially reduce the costs and environmental impacts associated with operating county-owned and leased facilities. This is a noncompetitive procurement as permitted by Government Code 4217.10 through 4217.18. Alliance Building Solutions warrants that the anticipated cost to the county for the services provided by Alliance Building Solutions ($7,880,230) are less than the anticipated costs to the county for energy that would have been used by the county, which is projected to cost $18,670,797 over 30 years.”
By a vote of 4-to-0, with Supervisor Cook absent, supervisors Armendarez, Rowe, Hagman and Baca approved the contract with Alliance Building Solutions.
San Bernardino County owns more than 50 substantial buildings and leases more than two dozen others around its 20,105-square mile expanse. Chapman is confident that his company can handle as many as four projects of the size and intensity of the Energy Efficiency Solutions Project per year. He believes the successful completion of the Energy Efficiency Solutions Project will encourage the county to enter into further projects to modernize its existing buildings, a few of which date from the 1950s with some from the 1960s and 1970s.

Leave a Reply