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Arrests made in San Bernardino County corruption case

KABC-TV covers Los Angeles and Southern California.

May 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Three people were arrested Tuesday and a fourth is at large in an ongoing corruption investigation involving San Bernardino County officials.

It took two and a half years for the San Bernardino district attorney and his team of investigators to unravel a tangled web of alleged corruption in the Colonies Partners LP probe.

A 29-count indictment led to the arrest of Supervisor Gary Ovitt's former chief of staff, Mark Kirk, and former assistant assessor James Erwin. Colonies co-managing partner Jeffrey Burum was also arrested.

A $2 million arrest warrant was issued for former county Supervisor Paul Biane, who failed to turn himself in.

All four are facing felony charges ranging from bribery to misappropriation of public funds.

"This is a historic day because this is the biggest corruption case the district attorney's office of San Bernardino County has prosecuted," District Attorney Michael Ramos said.

The corruption case stems from a $102 million settlement approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 2006 with Colonies over flood control improvements.

Prosecutors say Burum came up with the idea to influence the vote in favor of a settlement.

"He concocted a scheme to corrupt officials, board members and chiefs of boards through threats, extortion, inducements and bribery," Ramos said.

Biane, Kirk and Erwin allegedly received a $100,000 bribe each from the multi-million dollar settlement.

The indictment says Biane, Kirk and Erwin were able to take the bribes and wash it through a political action committee each established.

"The attorney general is committed to this and we won't rest until we've followed all of the evidence to wherever it leads," said Gary Schons, the state senior assistant attorney general.

The investigation came to ahead shortly after former board Chairman Bill Postmus agreed to a plea deal.

"We decided to go down this grand jury path prior to Bill Postmus ever pleading guilty and we would have been here today even without Bill Postmus," Ramos said.

Prosecutors say they will go after the money they contend was stolen from San Bernardino County tax payers.

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