Bill Postmus swiftly rose through San Bernardino County political ranks, gaining the confidence of seasoned politicos who admired the energy, ambition and fearlessness they associated with his youth.
Until his 7:10 a.m. arrest Thursday at his home on drug charges by district attorney's investigators serving a search warrant, Postmus was seemingly immune to political scandal and initially billed a reformer. It was widely believed that by 40, he might attain a seat in Congress.
But at 37, less than 10 years after launching his first bid for political office, Postmus' political career crashed hard as reports mounted of a methamphetamine addiction and unethical, even criminal, behavior in the elected position he holds as
The disgraced county assessor's political allies are abandoning him. In his personal life, there are few who call him a friend. And business relationships he cultivated on the side have disintegrated. On Dec. 16, the Board of Supervisors launched proceedings to remove Postmus from office.
A yearlong grand jury investigation led to a criminal investigation by the district attorney and the arrest June 30 of Adam Aleman, once Postmus' most trusted confidante and top assistant. Aleman is standing trial on six felonies, from destroying evidence to falsifying documents, in what investigators say was an attempt to mislead the grand jury.
"Put two and two together," said Scott Becker, whose friendship with Postmus reaches back to high school. "Bill was behind him. Adam is a sweet, innocent guy, and he should not be taking the rap."
Many of those interviewed for this story requested anonymity, either because of the ongoing investigation by the district attorney or out of fear that their reputations and careers would be destroyed by any appearance of connection with Postmus. They described a man who is untrustworthy and breaks promises, who attempts to buy his friends by showering them with sports tickets and campaign money, who wins their confidence through the allure of investment deals and high-paying jobs.
One of his closest friends said Postmus' meth addiction stems from the years he has spent hiding his sexual orientation, attempting to resist "carnal pleasures" and cloaking his sexual identity as a gay man from not only voters, but his family, friends and political allies.
Postmus' family moved to the San Bernardino Mountains when he was a child. He graduated from Serrano High School in Phelan, where he had a small circle of friends. He then earned an associate's degree from Victor Valley College, followed by a bachelor's degree from the University of Redlands.
After college, Postmus began climbing the political ladder, working as a legislative assistant for Assemblyman Keith Olberg, a Republican then based in Victorville.
In 1999, at age 28, Postmus burst onto the county political scene when he announced his campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. At the time, he also held some low-profile, yet influential, positions as vice chairman of the county Republican Central Committee and vice chairman of the Victorville Planning Commission.
Within county government that election season, a corruption scandal involving bribery was festering, and Assemblywoman Kathleen Honeycutt presented Postmus with a golden plunger, declaring he was the man to clean up the county.
During this time, Postmus was often attending political conventions and rallies, flanked by young men. In the coming years, he would develop a reputation for hiring twenty-something worshippers who blithely followed him, sources said. Among them was Aleman, then a teenager.
In 2000, Postmus was sworn in on the Board of Supervisors as the representative of the immense 1st District, which encompasses much of the High Desert.
Those who worked closely with Postmus while he was supervisor say he was a hard worker, dedicated to the job.
But over the seven years he served on the board, his career was riddled with controversies and scandal - the most prominent being the secret negotiations Postmus engaged in that led to the $100 million Colonies settlement, which government watchdogs criticized for being excessive and illegal. Postmus and Supervisor Paul Biane reached the settlement with The Colonies Partners LP, a major Upland developer in a closed-door deal after banishing county attorneys from the room.
It was during his term as board chairman that Postmus lost the tenuous control he held over an addiction to pain medication. On July 14, 2006, he embarked on his first trip to rehab, multiple sources said. The timing of Postmus' absence, however, was unfortunate.
The county's top leader could not be reached as the Sawtooth and Millard fires raged across Yucca Valley, threatening lives and homes. The massive wildfires scorched at least 85,000 acres of land.
Treatment for chemical dependency at the Sundown M Ranch in Washington State may have steered Postmus back on course for a while. His struggle with addiction remained out of the public eye, thanks to loyal county staffers, sources said.
"I was led to believe that Mr. Postmus had received the help he needed, and because I saw no signs of the problem in Mr. Postmus' behavior, I believed the issue had been resolved," Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said in a statement. Mitzelfelt served as Postmus' chief of staff from 2000 to 2006 when Postmus left the board and Mitzelfelt was appointed to replace him. "According to county policy, the issue was appropriately handled as a medical, and therefore confidential matter."
But midway through 2007, Postmus returned to rehab, this time at the Pine Ridge Treatment Center in Victorville, multiple sources said.
During 2007, Postmus' career started to fizzle. He was deposed as the chairman of the county Republican Central Committee, after draining Republican party funds and running up an exorbitant tab on a party-issued credit card. He launched a campaign to run for county assessor, an obscure elected position that political insiders say Postmus sought in order to regroup for a run at a Congressional seat.
It is unclear how Postmus transitioned from abusing prescription pain killers to methamphetamine, but those close to him have said they are terrified of the hold the drug has over him, and they fear it may cost him his life. One source said from 2005 on, the soaring highs and desperate crashes brought on by methamphetamine use began to take over Postmus' life.
As fragile control over drug addiction slipped from his grasp, Postmus' routine work habits became erratic, sources say.
After winning the post of county assessor, Postmus rarely showed up for work, instead issuing orders to Aleman by means of his Blackberry, sources said.
Still, despite being embroiled in political turmoil and suffering the ravages of a meth addiction, Postmus has managed to hold onto some close friends.
Dino Defazio, Postmus' business partner and friend, put in considerable effort to find a Russian mail-order bride for Postmus, hoping that a wife would give Postmus' political career more legitimacy and dispel swirling rumors that he was gay, sources said. But Postmus refused to go along with the plan, and Defazio gave up, sources said. When Defazio was married this summer, Postmus stood in as his best man, sources said.
Just as in his personal life, some of Postmus' business relationships have run aground.
It might seem like a conflict of interest for the county assessor, a man tasked with setting property taxes, to have development interests in the High Desert. But that hasn't stopped Postmus. A source familiar with the properties Postmus owns in the desert said only an expert would be able to uncover all of the land interests he holds.
Another business partner who participated in land deals in the High Desert with Postmus described him as a "high roller" who engages in "wheeling and dealing" to the detriment of his business partners.
The business partner said he worries that more innocent investors might be lured into land deals and taken advantage of by Postmus.
The grand jury report released in June chronicled misuse of power in the assessor's office - how Postmus spent $1.2 million to hire under-qualified executive level staff who had little role in the day-to-day operations of the office, how he ordered the transfer of campaign money on county time and engaged in partisan politics during work. The report questioned a $64,000 contract given to political consultant Mike Richman and gave a hefty severance package to former assistant assessor Jim Erwin.
The hard-hitting grand jury inquiry spun off a criminal investigation by the district attorney that culminated Thursday in Postmus' arrest.
Sources confirmed that mere days before the district attorney raided the assessor's office in April and seized documents and computers, Postmus attempted to set up a meeting with District Attorney Michael J. Ramos.
A source said the situation reminded him of "classic Bill," that when he perceives a looming confrontation, he reaches out to that person. Ramos says a meeting never took place.
But on the day of the raid, Postmus made a rare appearance in the office. It was 7 in the morning, sources said.
Ramos said he had only one conversation with Postmus, urging him to comply with the grand jury investigation.
Ramos was a political ally with whom Postmus had traded campaign contributions over the years. In 2006, he endorsed Postmus in his bid to become assessor.
But Ramos says their relationship was not close.
"I had a political acquaintance with him as he was the chairman of the board that oversaw my budget," Ramos said. "It was all business."
Still, Ramos' relationship with Postmus has led some to question why the district attorney was slow to charge Postmus.
Meanwhile, two key witnesses in Aleman's prosecution confirmed they have yet to be interviewed.
Although the grand jury investigation was far reaching, there was one detail it failed to uncover - that among Postmus' reportedly unethical employment practices in the assessor's office was the hiring of Jonathan Stucker, a man with whom he had an intimate relationship, multiple sources said. Stucker left county employment July 7, said David Wert, county spokesman, who declined to disclose the circumstances surrounding Stucker's departure. Stucker did not return calls seeking comment.
Postmus has long sought to keep his sexual orientation out of the public eye, driving to West Hollywood, Palm Springs and Laguna Beach in order to party and get high where he would not be recognized as an elected official, multiple sources said.
Sources also say Postmus has been completely undone by the arrest of Aleman.
"He seems to have shut down from the things that gave him pleasure - politics, sex and drugs," one source said. "His soul mate has been ripped apart from him."
Postmus adored Aleman because he was young, good looking, astute and politically aggressive, the source said.
Postmus had, in a sense, swooped in to rescue Aleman, catapulting him, in the short span of a few years, from manager of an Outback Steakhouse to assistant assessor, the second highest position in the assessor's office.
"Bill would shower Adam with gifts, trips, money," the source said, adding that the two men had traveled together to such destinations as Seattle, China, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Those trips appear to be over. With his political career in tatters and the loss of his most trusted companion, Postmus now seems to be facing an uncertain future, virtually alone.Postmus decline four requests to be interviewed for this story. He could not be reached for comment Thursday. His sister Holly, Defazio and Stucker also declined to be interviewed.
City Editor George Watson contributed reporting.
NOVEMBER 2000: Postmus, 28, defeats 1st District Supervisor Kathy Davis.
DEC. 13, 2000: Postmus crashes into the back of a van on Bear Valley Road, damaging the county vehicle he was driving.
JUNE 2004: Postmus is re-elected.
2005-06: Postmus chairs the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
NOVEMBER 2006: Postmus defeats a 12-year incumbent for county assessor.
NOV. 28, 2006: The Board of Supervisors ends the county's feud with developer Jeff Burum over the Colonies project. Postmus and Supervisor Paul Biane reach a closed-door deal with the development company after banishing the county's lawyers from the room. The Colonies received $102 million.
APRIL 2008: Documents and computers are seized in a raid of the Assessor's Office.
JUNE 2008: The grand jury chronicles mismanagement and a political shop at the Assessor's Office. Postmus' top assistant, Adam Aleman, is charged with six felonies for allegedly destroying or altering evidence.
JULY: Postmus begins a 12-week leave of absence for unspecified medical problems.
OCT. 10: Postmus announces his return to work.
OCT. 23: Postmus declines a request to appear before the supervisors to answer questions about the controversy surrounding his office.
NOVEMBER 2008: County supervisors censure Postmus for failing to appear before them to answer allegations of methamphetamine abuse and unethical conduct.
DEC. 16: Supervisors vote unanimously to begin proceedings to remove Postmus from office.
JAN. 6: Postmus appears before the supervisors, admits he had a substance-abuse problem but had kicked the habit. He said he would not seek re-election.
JAN. 15: Investigators arrest Postmus at his Rancho Cucamonga home on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
- Staff Report