Two San Bernardino County officials and developer acquitted in public corruption case
Former San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane in 2007. Biane and others were charged with bribery and conflict of interest relating to a land dispute. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
September 1, 2017, 4:00 PM
Two San Bernardino County officials and a Rancho Cucamonga developer were acquitted by a jury this week following an eight-month trial in which prosecutors accused them scheming to secure a $102-million payout from a land dispute.
Former Supervisor Paul Biane; Mark Kirk, a former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt; and Jeffrey Burum, a managing partner at Colonies Partners of Rancho Cucamonga, were charged with bribery and conflict of interest in connection with the 2011 case.
“We asked the jury to return a quick verdict to send a message to the prosecution, and they did, returning across-the-board acquittals in less than five hours of deliberation,” said Burum’s attorney, Stephen G. Larson. “We said all along that this is a case that should not have been brought — that they were innocent and this was a political persecution. The jury agreed.”
A separate San Bernardino County Superior jury continued deliberating Friday on the fate of James Erwin, former assistant assessor and former chief of staff to Supervisor Neil Derry.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the jury’s decision due to ongoing deliberations, spokesman Christopher Lee said.
The four were indicted in 2011 on multiple charges stemming from a land dispute between the county and Rancho Cucamonga-based investor group Colonies Partners.
Prosecutors alleged that they participated in a bribery scheme designed to settle the matter in favor of the company. In 2006, county supervisors voted 3 to 2 to settle with Colonies, over the objection of county legal staff.
Kirk’s attorney Peter Scalisi said his client had been “living an unjust nightmare” since he was indicted.
“I am happy and relieved for Mark Kirk that the jury very quickly reached a verdict of not guilty of all charges after listening to eight month’s of the government’s evidence without the defense presenting a defense,” Scalisi said.
Biane’s attorney, Mark Raymond McDonald, said after the verdict was announced, two jurors asked him to deliver an apology to his client “from them for what he had had to endure for so many years.”
“The jurors spoke to me about Paul following their verdict and stated that they were all on the same page as soon as they entered the jury room to begin deliberations,” McDonald said. “Thousands of pages of exhibits were brought into the jury room, but the jurors didn’t even look at them. They believed it was totally unnecessary when the prosecution had, in their opinions, presented ‘no’ evidence of guilt.”