An article in the March 21, 2018 issue of “The Sun” reflected on the San Bernardino County-Colonies corruption case:
For mid-level politicians to move up the political pecking order in a state the size of California, they sometimes need to ride the wave of a big news event all the way to the front page of the paper.
It happened to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the late 1970s, when San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated, and Feinstein was given the task of leading a grieving city.
Similarly, in 2002 Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona became known as “America’s Sheriff” after he gained national prominence during the hunt for the killer of abducted 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.
In these cases, Feinstein and Carona didn’t choose to be principal players in above-the-fold stories, they were forced into it.
But sometimes politicians have been known to exploit, or even manufacture, a scandal to gain notoriety. When they do it with a badge and a gun, it’s downright chilling.
That’s exactly what San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos seems to have done with his shameful pursuit of political scalps in the Colonies “corruption” case.
If you’re not familiar with the Colonies case, prosecutors from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices alleged Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for former county Supervisor Gary Ovitt, attempted to scam taxpayers out of $102 million in settlement money, in what was described as a fixed lawsuit between the county and Burum’s investor group, Colonies Partners LP, in November 2006 in exchange for bribes. The deal would end an enduring flood-control dispute between the county and Colonies Partners.
Also, former county Supervisor Bill Postmus was bullied by prosecutors into pleading guilty to 15 felonies in March of 2011 while he was in the throes of a severe substance abuse addiction, in exchange for his testimony at the Colonies bribery trial.
After 5-years of legal wrangling and 8 months of a trial, all of the defendants were exonerated by the jury.
Why? Jurors say there wasn’t a modicum of evidence.
I asked one juror, Donald Platten of Cedar Pines Park, if he thought this was a political prosecution and he said, “Yes, definitely. Everybody was looking to put a feather in their cap, especially Ramos, and that idiot Jerry Brown. If it wasn’t for the money that Jeff Burum had, they would have been walked all over. Anybody else would have been screwed.”
Another juror, Crystal Hess of Highland, told me, “You grow up being told that the government and law enforcement are the good guys. But they were pulling a fast one on us and bringing up things that weren’t true. I didn’t think our government would ever do this. It didn’t sit right with me … Mike Ramos needs to remember his core values as to why he got into his position. He’s lost sight of the morality of his office.”
Ramos never paid a price for his sins. In fact, his political stock went up.
In 2010, Ramos and then-state Attorney General Jerry Brown hosted a widely covered news conference where they declared that the Colonies’ case was the “biggest corruption scandal in county history, if not the state of California.” Ramos was re-elected district attorney that year, and Brown was elected governor.
Additionally, Ramos entertained the idea of parlaying his newfound fame into a run for state attorney general.
Somebody should have told Ramos that if he was this desperate to get on TV all he had to do was fly to New York and stand behind the “Today Show” set.
Launching a politically motivated prosecution is an abuse of power and just about the worst offense a district attorney can commit.
And that’s what jurors say Mike Ramos did.
Actions like this should have real-world consequences.
Juror Platten put it simply, “I never thought that the D.A.’s office was corrupt until after this trial. I’m pro-police and pro-D.A. But after seeing what Ramos did in this case, it shattered my expectations of what the D.A. is.”
Any prosecutor whose thirst for stardom exceeds their commitment to justice shouldn’t have the power to put people in prison.
San Bernardino County deserves better than Mike Ramos. And most importantly, Jeff Burum, Paul Biane, Jim Erwin, Mark Kirk, and yes, Bill Postmus, deserve their reputations back.”
John Phillips is a CNN political commentator and can be heard weekdays at 3 p.m. on “The Drive Home with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips” on KABC/AM 790.