By G. T. Houts
San Bernardino, CA – A jury of six men and six women will hear opening arguments this week in the Colonies corruption trial involving four individuals including former Second District Supervisor Paul Biane.
The case involves Biane (a former county supervisor who represented a portion of the mountain communities), Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeffrey Scott Burum’s investment group (Colonies Partners LP), Mark Allen Kirk (former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt) and James Howard Erwin (former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor).
The four were charged in May 2011 with numerous felonies, including bribery, tax evasion, criminal conspiracy, and other corruption-related charges having to do with a controversial $102 million settlement between San Bernardino County and Colonies Partners LP, Burum’s Upland-based real estate investment group.
The settlement involved flood control improvements on 434 acres of land located in Upland and was approved by a 3-2 vote with Postmus, Biane and Gary Ovitt voting yes and supervisors Dennis Hansberger and Josie Gonzales voting no.
Not guilty pleas have been entered by all four defendants who have seen numerous counts dismissed during a lengthy appeals process.
Judge Michael A. Smith will preside over the trial for Biane, Burum and Kirk that reconvenes at 9 a.m. on Thursday, January 5 in Department S-21 and is expected to last about six months or more.
Erwin’s trial is being heard by a separate jury of nine women and three men and it convenes at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, January 4.
In March 2011, former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus entered a guilty plea to 10 felonies in connection with the Colonies case and a companion corruption case in which he was charged with abusing his elected office for political gain during his brief tenure as County Assessor (January 8, 2007-February 6, 2009).
As part of his plea bargain, Postmus admitted to taking a $100,000 bribe from Burum in exchange for his yes vote in November 2006 that resulted in the settlement.
During the Colonies trial, Postmus has agreed to testify against Biane and the other defendants in exchange for leniency in his own case.
Also scheduled to testify is former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman who provided information to the District Attorney’s office that led to the eventual indictment of Biane, Burum, Kirk and Erwin.