Assessor Postmus jailed on felony drug charge

06:56 AM PST on Friday, January 16, 2009
The Press-Enterprise

Survey: Should Bill Postmus resign?

PDF: Read a statement from San Bernardino County Supervisors Chairman Gary Ovitt about the assessor's arrest

PDF: Read statement from the San Bernardino County Assessor's Office about the assessor's arrest

PDF: Read Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt's statement about the assessor's arrest

PDF: Read statement from the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office about the assessor's arrest

Special Section: San Bernardino Co. Assessors Probe

The San Bernardino County district attorney's office arrested Assessor Bill Postmus on suspicion of drug offenses Thursday amid a sweeping inquiry that took investigators to six Southern California cities.

The arrest came as 50 officials from the district attorney's office served search warrants at homes, offices and government buildings throughout the region.

While searching Postmus' Rancho Cucamonga apartment, investigators found what they believe to be methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia and arrested the assessor shortly after sunrise.

As part of a yearlong investigation, prosecutors on Thursday sought documents related to two political action committees, Postmus' election campaign, his ties to a High Desert land-development company and the sale of his former Hesperia home, records show.

Less than two weeks ago, Postmus, 37, appeared before the Board of Supervisors and claimed that he had overcome a battle with drugs and apologized for past mistakes in his office. Postmus said his "successful struggle" did not interfere with his duties and added that he would not seek re-election in 2010.

Word of the arrest rattled county government as supervisors continued researching their options for removing Postmus from office.

"Today's arrest makes it difficult to believe the assessor's illegal and intolerable drug use has stopped," Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, once Postmus' chief of staff, said in a statement.

Supervisors said they were saddened and embarrassed by the morning's events. Supervisor Josie Gonzales said she felt insulted.

"If what the county assessor came and stated on Jan. 6 before the county Board of Supervisors was in fact a lie based on his arrest today, I am outraged. I am thoroughly outraged," Supervisor Josie Gonzales said.

Postmus was arrested at 7:10 a.m. and booked into the West Valley Detention Center at 10:47 a.m. on suspicion of felony possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor paraphernalia possession.

He left after posting bond on his $11,450 bail, walking out the main exit at 3:30 p.m.

Dressed in slacks and a tucked-in dress shirt, Postmus, once considered one of the most promising politicians in San Bernardino County, walked past a group of reporters without speaking.

He entered a white sedan with three other people inside and left.

It is unclear whether investigators searched Postmus' home specifically looking for illegal drugs. But during the raid at the assessor's home, an unknown quantity of a substance believed to be methamphetamine was found, along with drug paraphernalia, officials said.

Susan Mickey, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mike Ramos, would not say whether investigators served the search warrants as part of a larger investigation not focused on drugs.

She also declined to state the amount of drugs found.

Since Postmus is out of custody, prosecutors don't have a deadline for deciding whether to file charges based on the drug arrest. No arraignment is scheduled.

The Investigation

Postmus and his office have been under a cloud of scrutiny for months.

Prosecutors began looking into the possible misuse of public resources for political activity in August 2007. In April, district attorney investigators raided the assessor's office. In June, Adam Aleman, a top Postmus aide, was arrested on six felony charges of providing false evidence to a grand jury and destroying public records.

By last fall, supervisors began pressing Postmus to explain himself and started researching ways to remove him from office.

In Thursday's searches, investigators carted away boxes of documents from homes, offices and government buildings in Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Highland, Victorville, Apple Valley and Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County, the district attorney's office said.

They sought financial and banking records, checks and other documents related to Conservatives for a Republican Majority, the Inland Empire Political Action Committee, and the Committee to Elect Bill Postmus, according to one of the search warrants.

In addition, prosecutors sought documents related to Tri-Land Inc., a company he and a partner formed five months after Postmus took office in January 2007, and Postmus' former Sunny Ridge Street home in Hesperia.

Postmus' Tri-Land partner is longtime friend Dino Defazio. Through the company, Postmus has a financial stake in six vacant properties in the Lucerne Valley and west of Adelanto, records show.

Investigators sought information on those six parcels, according to the warrant.

Defazio, who was served with a warrant, said Tri-Land has done nothing wrong.

When first reached by telephone Thursday, Defazio said, "The only thing I can comment on is they were looking for documents pertaining to the sale of his house he owned in Hesperia."

Defazio declined further comment but defended Tri-Land.

"We bought a couple of pieces of property," he said. "It was all done legally. Everything was done up and above board."

Thursday's raids also touched the Board of Supervisors. Investigators served a warrant at the office of Jim Erwin, a former Postmus ally and current chief of staff for Supervisor Neil Derry.

Erwin was Postmus' assistant assessor until late 2007, when he had a falling out with the assessor.

Derry said he was notified by Ramos about the search at 7:05 a.m.

"He wanted to give me a heads-up that this investigation is strictly related to the assessor's office," Derry said.

The supervisor said he does not know what investigators were looking for or if they found anything during the 90-minute search.

"I'm pleased that the DA's office is aggressively pursuing this matter," he said.

Removing Postmus

Supervisors for months have discussed using their power under the county charter to remove Postmus from office. The county has launched a search for a special independent prosecutor to investigate the assessor.

San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Ovitt said Postmus' arrest doesn't necessarily mean the board will hasten its review. The matter comes before the board again on Jan. 27.

"I think it's still important to follow through on the process that's been initiated by the district attorney's office, see that to its conclusion and do what we need to do then," Ovitt said in an interview.

The board must give Postmus a chance to answer the charges in a hearing if it decides to remove him, he said.

Ovitt said he is aware that the case hurts the county's image but said officials can't let that affect their investigation.

"We as a board have to remain independent of that and have to afford the assessor due process," he said.

Supervisor Paul Biane said Postmus appears to still be struggling with drugs and should "devote his full time and attention to overcoming the demons that are apparently continuing to haunt him."

Although all the supervisors expressed dismay about Postmus, they declined to comment extensively, saying they did not want to prejudice themselves should they follow through with a removal vote.

"I must remain impartial as the investigation by the district attorney and county counsel's review for potential removal proceedings are ongoing," Mitzelfelt said.

Staff Writers Richard Brooks, Mike Perrault, Paul LaRocco and Jim Miller contributed to this report.

Reach Duane W. Gang at 951-368-9547 or dgang@PE.com

Reach Imran Ghori at 951-368-9558 or ighori@PE.com

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