Defense Wins Skirmish in Colonies Corruption Case

The long-running Colonies corruption case in San Bernardino County has heated up.  The case, indicted in 2011 and yet to be tried, alleged that developer Jeff Burum paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to two County Supervisors and other County executives, in order to secure the approval of a $102 million legal settlement to his firm, Colonies Partners.  Colonies had previously sued the County over flood control issues on a property it was developing in Upland.

One of the former county supervisors, Bill Postmus, pleaded guilty to taking a $100,000 bribe in March 2011 and agreed to testify for the prosecution.  In May 2011, prosecutors filed an indictment alleging that Burum also bribed Paul Biane, a former county supervisor; Mark Kirk, chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt, and James Erwin, Chief of Staff to Supervisor Neil Derry.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith threw out the conspiracy charge against all four defendants, finding that it was barred by the 3-year statute of limitations.  The judge also dismissed most of the tax fraud and perjury counts in the case.  After the demise of the conspiracy count, defense counsel for Biane and Kirk are now seeking separate trials for their clients.  18 of the original 29 counts remain in the case.

In one ruling that went against the defense, Judge Smith denied a defense motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

Prosecutors have struck back by seeking to disqualify an attorney from assisting in Burum’s defense.  Burum’s law firm, Arent Fox, recently hired Jerry Behnke, a former federal prosecutor who participated in the task force that investigated the Colonies case and who supervised the federal investigation into the matter. However, there is no particular reason to suspect that Behnke has any involvement in the Colonies defense; it is far more likely that he was walled-off from the matter from the time that he left government for the private sector.

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