Thursday, June 1, 2017
[San Bernardino County] Defense attorney grills key Colonies trial witness on his dishonesty
Blog note: this article references a civil grand jury investigating allegations of malfeasance.
SAN BERNARDINO >> A defense attorney in the Colonies corruption trial on Tuesday grilled former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman on his repeated lies to district attorney investigators and a civil grand jury investigating allegations of malfeasance at the Assessor’s Office in 2008.
Aleman admitted under questioning by defense attorney Jennifer Keller he lied to protect himself and downplay his involvement in criminal activity, both at the Assessor’s Office and while working as an aide to Bill Postmus when Postmus was a county supervisor.
Postmus, who was elected county assessor in 2006 and resigned in disgrace in 2009, preceded Aleman on the witness stand in the San Bernardino courtroom of Judge Michael A Smith.
Both men are key witnesses for the prosecution, and both have entered plea agreements in exchange for their testimony at the Colonies trial, in which three county officials are accused of each taking $100,000 bribes, which were reported as campaign contributions, from Rancho Cucamonga developer and defendant Jeff Burum via his real estate investor group, Colonies Partners LP.
The money, prosecutors say, was to gain county Board of Supervisors’ approval in 2006 for a $102 million court settlement over flood control work at Colonies Partners’ 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland.
Also charged in the case are former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff of former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt.
All the defendants deny any wrongdoing, and said the money went to political action committees, with Colonies Partners as the source of the money publicly available.
Keller, representing Burum, was the first defense attorney to cross-examine Aleman, and went right into his role at the Assessor’s Office formerly run by Postmus, where the staff was expanded to give jobs to political operatives, including Aleman, who were unqualified for assessor work, and who illegally engaged in political activity while on county time.
“You have a history of lying in this case and in the assessor’s case if you think it will help you? Is that true?” Keller asked Aleman.
“No,” he replied.
“You knew you were not supposed to be running a political operation out of that office, correct?” Keller asked regarding the Postmus Assessor’s Office.
“Yes,” Aleman answered.
In 2007 and 2008, a civil grand jury investigated the Assessor’s Office on reports of political work being done on county time. Aleman testified on April 16, 2008.
“And then you proceeded to lie to the civil grand jury,” Keller said.
“Yes,” Aleman said, admitting to Keller he lied repeatedly on a number of matters.
Keller elicited testimony from Aleman about the politically motivated hires at the Assessor’s Office.
Ted Lehrer, for example, was hired to write blogs.
“So you and Mr. Postmus filled the positions with your political operatives, and these were sham jobs?” she asked.
“Yes,” Aleman replied.
Aleman agreed with Keller that he and Postmus did what they did to build themselves into “political powerhouses.”
Aleman started a company, ALP, which stood for Aleman, Lehrer and Postmus, funded by ad revenue from the blogs Lehrer wrote for including Red County San Bernardino and Flashreport.
Lehrer spent “99 percent” of his time working on the blogs. Aleman gave him a laptop so his work couldn’t be traced, he said when asked by Keller.
Keller asked Aleman about how he altered executive meeting notes presented to the civil grand jury to conceal the illicit activity at the Assessor’s Office.
Aleman said he asked staffer Wanda Nowicki to change minutes regarding political operative Michael Richman’s activity at the office, and present those altered notes to the grand jury. She did not.
“You were willing to throw her right under the bus, so long as it helped you?” Keller asked.
“That wasn’t my intent,” Aleman said.
When Aleman appeared before the grand jury, he offered the altered version of the minutes, and was caught in a lie when he learned Nowicki, unbeknown to Aleman, provided the original minutes to the grand jury.
“We should believe you now, shouldn’t we?” Keller asked.
“That’s up to the jury to decide,” Aleman said.
Aleman pleaded no contest on June 30, 2009, to four felonies in connection with crimes at the Assessor’s Office and while working as an aide to Postmus when he was a county supervisor. He agreed to testify truthfully against the defendants at trial in exchange for his charges being reduced to misdemeanors.
Keller noted that Aleman was facing more than eight years in prison, yet the terms of his plea bargain made it possible for him to get off with misdemeanor offenses and probation.
“Your understanding is you can walk out the door with no felony convictions?”
“That’s up to the judge,” Aleman said, adding, at Keller’s prompting, that that was in fact his hope.
Also on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel wrapped up her questioning of Aleman, asking him about conversations he had with Postmus regarding the political action committees in which Colonies Partners contributed a total of $400,000 — $100,000 of which benefitted Postmus and the rest allegedly benefiting defendants Erwin, Kirk and Biane.
Aleman testified he told district attorney investigator Hollis “Bud” Randles the PACs were designed so as to not reveal who was really controlling them.
Postmus, according to Aleman, was furious when he learned Kirk paid himself a $20,000 consultant fee from the Alliance for Ethical Government PAC shortly after the PAC received a $100,000 contribution from Colonies Partners in May 2007.
“Mr. Postmus was very upset. He felt it was going to expose all the parties that had received money from the Colonies Partners ...,” Aleman said. “It was almost a direct link to receiving a cash contribution from Colonies Partners.”
May 30, 2017
San Bernardino County Sun
By Joe Nelson, The Sun and Richard K. De Atley, The Press-Enterprise