San Bernardino County Superior Court judge dismissed all charges against Jim Erwin, accused of colluding with real estate developers and other county officials to defraud the county of over a hundred million dollars in total settlements of disputed flood-control easements.
Erwin was the last of four defendants involved in the high-profile white-collar case and had faced corruption, tax evasion, and perjury charges. The others were Colonies LP’s co-managing partner, Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, county official and former chief of staff.
The judgment came after prosecutors announced they did not want to retry the case, a decision that ended eight years of litigation and a marathon eight-month trial.
Expressing his relief, Erwin said, “Eight and a half years. I am numb.”
However, it appeared the prosecution’s decision to forfeit a retrial came after the jury announced that the case was hopelessly deadlocked on all counts. The jury then gave the prosecutor deadline to decide whether to retry the case on all or some of the original counts.
After an evaluation of its position and prosecution arsenal, Lead prosecutor Lewis Cope responded in the negative. The District Attorney’s office passed on a retrial because it had failed to get and retain witnesses. The only option, Lewis said, was to dismiss the case in the interest of justice.
Not expecting the sudden turn of events, but resolute in his stance, the defense attorney Rajan expressed his joy and reiterated his client claimed innocence from the onset.
Erwin had allegedly conspired to make the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approve a $102 million court settlement to Colonies Partners LP, a Rancho Cucamonga-based real estate developer. The Colonies corruption case had been a malicious prosecution lawsuit that had gone on for twenty years.
The defendant had also faced tax evasion charges and two counts of perjury. For one, Erwin had failed to file his taxes in 2008. Then, he did not report a $12,765 Rolex watch gifted by Colonies LP’s co-managing partner, Jeff Burum. Neither did he report gifted items received during an East Coast trip to celebrate the multi-million-dollar settlement. Depending on the severity, these are misdemeanor and felony crimes in California.
The District Attorney’s office witness troubles began when Bill Postmus, a former county supervisor and former county assessor, gave an unexpected testimony on cross-examination. The testimony had conflicted with his earlier grand jury testimony, his statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and multiple interviews with the District Attorney’s Office.
Postmus, a methamphetamine addict who claims to have been sober since 2012, made a plea deal with the prosecution. Postmus, who had pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of corruption in the Colonies case and abuse of power for political gain, was slated to testify in exchange for leniency and having most of the charges against him dropped.
However, given Postmus’ conflicting testimony, credibility issues, and similar problems with other witnesses, a retrial would have strained judicial resources.
Erwin said he will try to re-establish some form of normalcy in his life and may even go back into politics. Burum, one of the original four defendants, said he was relieved and grateful that the ordeal was over for all of them. However, he expressed his displeasure with how county officials had handled the case.
According to Burum, the trial would have been unnecessary if the Board of Supervisors had ensured county officials and lawyers did their jobs and avoided the court settlement. He expressed his disappointment that the defendants were made political scapegoats for these reasons.