Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
That change follows an embarrassing episode involving district attorney Mike Ramos’s failure to make full disclosure on his California Form 700s of household income he had himself received. California Form 700s are documents used by public officials in the state to list the full range of their incomes and economic interests.
The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office announced on January 17 that it sent a referral to the California Fair Political Practices Commission relating to county Second District Supervisor Paul Biane and newly hired county administrator Greg Devereaux, asking for an opinion as to whether they violated disclosure laws by failing to report gifts they received in the form of charter jet flights.
According to available records, Biane flew to West Virginia on Sept. 26, 2008, for the purpose of “meeting donors.” His campaign fund subsequently reimbursed Ray Crebs, of Rancho Cucamonga, $380.40 for the flight and another $131 for tee fees so Biane could “golf with donors” on Sept. 28, 2008. Biane reimbursed Daniel Richards, one of two managing partners with the Colonies Partners development firm, $300 for tee fees that same day. Crebs is a partner with the Colonies Partners.
Biane did not initially report the trip on two separate Form 700s he filed in October 2008, but entered the information onto an amended form dated March 11, 2009 after a spate of negative publicity in early 2009 over other public officials’ failures to make full disclosure on their Form 700s. There appears to be a discrepancy in Biane’s reporting of the matter in that his Form 700s, which list expenses for hotel and meals during the California Republican Party Convention in Anaheim the same weekend Biane was in West Virginia.
The district attorney’s office also referred a situation involving Devereaux to the state Fair Political Practices Commission which stemmed from the same trip to Morgantown, West Virginia.
Both Devereaux and Richards are alumni at the University of West Virginia. That weekend the West Virginia University Mountaineers hosted the Marshall University Thundering Herd in an NCAA football match-up.
Devereaux failed to note the trip on his Form 700s that he was required to fill out as Ontario city manager.
Less than two weeks ago, on January 12, Devereaux was hired as San Bernardino Couinty’s chief executive officer. He has been employed as Ontario city manager for 13 years. He is scheduled to officially go to work for the county on February 13.
There are complicating considerations to both Biane and Devereaux’s acceptance of plane rides.
First, a change in the law that went into effect just prior to the September 2008 trip called for any reimbursement that government officials make for travel accommodations aboard a private plane correspond to the actual cost of chartering a private plane rather than to commercial fare.
The $380.20 Biane reimbursed Crebs does not meet that criterion.
On the advice of Ontario City Attorney John Brown, Devereaux reimbursed Crebs an amount calculated to be twice the value of a commercial trip to Morgantown. That amount falls short of the requirement under the law as well.
Typical cost of a cross country flight on a private jet can run from $2,000 to $5,000.
In November 2006, Biane voted with supervisor Gary Ovitt and then-supervisor Bill Postmus to confer upon the Colonies Partners a $102 million payment to settle a lawsuit the company had filed against the county over flood control issues at its development project in northeastern Upland.
In Ontario, the city redevelopment agency worked out a deal earlier in the decade that provided, at well below the going market rate, property to a company owned by Richards in accordance with a development plan there.
There were conflicting reports as to who actually owns the plane upon which Biane and Devereaux flew. One held that the plane belonged to Crebs. Another account was that the plane belonged to another developer, Jim Previti.
Under the standard previously applied by the district attorney’s office, criminal charges against both Biane and Devereaux could have been filed.
The Fair Political Practices Commission has the authority to levy fines of up to $5,000 for Political Reform Act violations such as failure to meet the state’s income or campaign finance reporting requirements but does not have the authority to pursue criminal charges relating to those violations.
Two former San Bernardino County officials – Bill Postmus and Jim Erwin – were charged with felonies for failure to properly report income or gifts on their Form 700s.
Postmus, who was once a county supervisor and county assessor, was charged with one count of perjury for failure to disclose the receipt of a $12,000 cashier’s check from developer John Dino Defazio on his Form 700 Statement of Economic Interest. Erwin, who served as an assistant assessor as well as chief of staff to supervisor Neil Derry, was charged with ten felony counts pertaining to his having been provided with air fare and accommodations pertaining to a round trip to New York City and Washington D.C., as well as a $12,765 Rolex watch by Jeff Burum, another managing partner with the Colonies Partners. Like Biane and Devereaux, Erwin belatedly reported receiving the gifts on an amended Form 700.
Erwin has denounced the charges against him as politically motivated and vindictive. He maintains that his transgressions should have merited no more than an FPPC fine.
Despite the district attorney’s office’s recently adopted policy of referring income reporting violations to the Fair Political Practices Commission, it has not dismissed the previously filed charges against Erwin or Postmus.
Despite the hard-nosed approach Ramos and his prosecutors have taken with Erwin and Postmus, the district attorney himself engaged in activity that was practically indistinguishable from those he has criminally charged.
Documents on file with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters office covering the period between January 1, 2008 and June 30, 2008, shows that The Friends of Mike Ramos paid Gretchen Ramos $10,000 for “campaign services” and $124.64 in reimbursement money for a “CDAA [California District Attorneys Association] dinner.”
Gretchen Ramos is Mike Ramos’ wife of 28 years.
Ramos’s payment of $10,000 to his wife for “campaign services” in 2008 represents a potential issue for investigators, prosecutors and regulators in that 2008 was not an election year for the district attorney’s post in San Bernardino County. Ramos elevated the issue into a potential legal question by failing to disclose the $10,000 payment to his wife on his California Form 700 he filed in 2009.
Erwin noted that discrepancy and in October 2009 filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Ramos overcame that problematic legal issue by agreeing to pay a $200 fine to close out the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s inquiry into his failure to disclose income his campaign provided to his wife.
Under the Political Reform Act, elected officials in California are required to fill out the Forms 700 statements of economic interest to provide disclosure of the full range of their economic interests, including all income and gifts to his or her entire household. Since California is a community property state, Ramos should have declared the payment to his wife as income to his household.
In the district attorney’s office’s filing against Erwin, prosecutors alleged that Erwin’s failure to disclose the income from Burum constituted felonious activity since he had signed the Form 700 that omitted the report of the gifts under the penalty of perjury.
Erwin maintains that Ramos likewise signed his Form 700 under the penalty of perjury. Moreover, Erwin has suggested, Ramos’ provision of money to his wife for campaign services during a year – 2008 – during which no election for the post of district attorney in San Bernardino County was held – very likely entailed fraud on Ramos’ part.
Unlike Ramos, however, Erwin lacks prosecutorial authority.
Ramos maintains that his failure to disclose the money paid to his wife does not rise to the level of criminality and that the omission he made “was simply an oversight.”
Friday, January 22, 2010
But this time there is precedent. In 1984 San Bernardino City Councilman Bob Hammock was elected to serve as Fifth District supervisor on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. He was re-elected in 1988. He wanted to run for a third term.
During this same period Assemblyman Jerry Eaves was making a name for himself as a part of the “Gang of Five” going up against Speaker Willie Brown. Jerry made clear his intentions to leave the state assembly and challenge Hammock.
During the 1991 reapportionment process, Hammock had the Board of Supervisors draw Eaves out of the Fifth District so he couldn’t challenge Hammock. After the action took place, Eaves moved back into the Fifth District and announced his candidacy. Hammock dropped out of the race and Eaves won the seat in 1992.
Fast forward to 2009 and incumbent Supervisor Paul Biane is being challenged by Upland Mayor John Pomierski. Biane was offered a similar deal where Pomierski’s home could be moved into the Fourth District to “even things up a bit.” The always-cocky Biane turned down the request, suggesting that he is confident he can defeat any and all comers. Now that we have seen the kind of deals cut on Biane’s behalf with the District Attorney’s office, we can understand why he is so confident.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Was the true scope of the law firm hired by San Bernardino County Human Resources Director Andrew Lamberto to mount a politically explosive investigation really focused on just three questions?
Will county supervisors answer that question soon, or just try and delay until after the June election.
The Santa Monica office of the law firm of Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer, LLP was hired to investigate misconduct allegations leveled against District Attorney Michael Ramos and certain members of his management team by Investigative Technician Cheryl Ristow. Ristow says she had a 17-month long affair with Ramos and that when the affair became public last May she was retaliated against after expressing concerns to management.
The choice of the law firm was Lamberto’s decision.
Ristow has filed a $1.5 million claim against the County of San Bernardino.
Ramos has categorically denied any misconduct or relationship with Ristow.
Last Friday, the county issued a three-page memo drafted by county counsel, that pointedly had the intent of clearing Ramos and framing the investigations initial focus to strictly issues related to whether or not a hostile work environment was created against Ristow, and was she retaliated against. The memo says the issue of sexual misconduct was not a focus or nor should it ever have been. The memo also says the County received the approximately 200-page report on January 13th, a date that is now suspect.
Even though Lamberto told Ristow in October that she couldn’t return to a hostile work environment and Kraemer telling her in November she was credible, she was ran over by the cover-up train. Ristow’s relationship with Ramos is now referred to by county counsel as “the purported relationship”.
An investigation with an alleged focus that under any circumstances would never cost close to $140,000.
The county-issued memo even left open the possibility the report may not even be released by county supervisors. Also, three-pages of talking points issued to officials late last Friday list responses that are disgraceful to say the least.
For example, should someone ask “Why wasn’t Ramos’ relationship with Public Defender Doreen Boxer investigated?”, the response is to be “Because the county has not received a complaint”. How about “Why did the investigation cost $140,000?”, the response on this gem is something to the effect “Whether or not the county received value for the money spent is up to the Chairman of the Board and the public to decide”.
In other words, every attempt was made in advance to deflect what was readily apparent to everyone.
Sources close to the investigation tell InlandPolitics that not only was the issue of DA Ramos’ sexual conduct with county employees a focus, it was front and center and certain county officials know everything.
Attorney Glen Kraemer led the four-month long inquiry, which consisted of a significant number of interviews and document acquisition and review.
All interview notes were recorded on laptop computer as the interviews were occurring.
In some cases, questions even delved into Ramos’ sexual preferences.
Apparently Ramos’s conduct with subordinates and any preferential treatment afforded them over their co-workers is of no concern to supervisors.
Ramos’ lack of truthfulness was of no concern either. When Ramos was confronted by Kraemer with cell phone records listing numerous calls between he and Ristow, he gave a dubious explanation that proved untrue.
Granted, this was a county-commissioned investigation. Obviously it wasn’t designed to shoot themselves in the head liability wise. But this is over-the-top by any stretch.
Apparently, the District Attorneys application of discipline in his own department for similar conduct is a problem. Unbeknown-st to county supervisors is two separate but identical employee misconduct events with opposite outcomes.
Ask yourself the following. How can a District Attorney Investigator be fired when condoms are found in the back of his county-owned vehicle, when an Assistant Chief District Attorney Investigator be given a pat on the back after being caught having sexual intercourse with a co-worker in the stairwell of a county government building?
The building in question is located at 303 West Third Street in San Bernardino. Fittingly, the building houses the Superior Court Civil Division and administrative offices, the Public Defender administration, and the District Attorney Public Integrity Unit, and administration.
County supervisors want to cover conduct like this up?
Then again, we have those District Attorney referrals to the Fair Political Practices Commission in lieu of criminal action, related to misconduct by at least one county supervisor and other staff.
The smell is increasing.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is expected to take-up the matter of the Ramos investigation and report next week. It would be nice to be a fly on the wall for this meeting.
Case law not only requires the disclosure of the report, but also other documentation from the four-month-long, $140,000 inquiry.
The controlling legal case governing the release is BRV, Inc. v. Superior Court, 143 Cal. App. 4th 742.
The BRV case involved the release of an investigation report into the conduct of a school superintendent, who was eventually given a ’sweetheart severance deal”, which was a matter of public concern. A local newspaper filed a lawsuit to have the report and related materials released.
The Superior Court denied the request to release.
The California Court of Appeal reversed the Superior Court and ordered the release. The California Supreme Court denied review.
Not only does the BRV case require disclosure of the report with certain identifying information redacted, it also requires the release of other supporting information.
Documents such as the findings, opinion, interview summaries, any memoranda written by the investigators, and any interview notes are all required to be released upon request.
Let’s face it. The three page memoranda issued last Friday by the county was a white-wash.
The focus of the memoranda was so narrowed after the fact that a competent investigator could have resolved the matter in a couple weeks and for a fraction of the cost. If you will recall county supervisors had to increase the appropriation for the investigating law firm of Curiale Hirschfeld and Kraemer from $75,000 to $140,000.
The reason given by the law firm was the expanding complexity of the investigation.
The original complainant says she was contacted in October 2009 by Human Resources Director Andrew Lamberto who informed her she wouldn’t be returning to a hostile work environment. This call was in the third month of the investigation.
The complainant participated in a follow-up interview with the aforementioned law firm at the conclusion of the investigation in November 2009. The complainant was told that everything looked good and that she was credible.
So what happened?
It looks like Curiale Hirschfeld and Kraemer is in the middle of a fire storm along with their report and associated working documents.
One can only speculate as to how wide the disparity is between the findings released last Friday and what is contained in the back-up documentation.
Clearly there is a “quid pro quot” in play here. Anything to get Ramos past the June primary and keep others from facing charges.
Go to www.inlandpolitics.com for the article in its entirety.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Was there a deal cut to protect San Bernardino County’s beleaguered district attorney Mike Ramos? Certainly looks like it.
Multiple sources confirm to InlandPolitics that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors cut a deal, where Ramos’ investigation of alleged political malfeasance in county government would be punted off to be handled as an administrative matters by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) in Sacramento. In return, the district attorney’s office would not file charges against county supervisor Paul Biane, other staff, and new incoming County Administrative Officer (CAO) Greg Devereaux, for failing to properly disclose gifts received on statements of economic interest, receipt of gifts over the limit, misuse of campaign funds, perjury, and filing false documents.
The “referral” was made to the FPPC just one week prior to county supervisors releasing the findings of an investigation into Ramos’ conduct. It is believed that other less serious matters involving other individuals were also handed off to the state as well.
The travel in question was discovered by investigators from the District Attorney’s office after flight records were seized by investigators. Once the cat was out of the bag the affected officials started scurrying to disclose. Biane and incoming CAO Greg Devereaux participated in a cross-country junket to play golf and socialize with local businessmen. The trip to West Virginia in September 2008 occurred via private jet. Official records filed with the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters and available on-line show that for the period in question, Biane has amended his FPPC Form 460 Campaign Finance Statement three times in an attempt to show the trip as campaign related activity, when rules enforced by the FPPC clearly ban payment from campaign funds for leisure activities unrelated to campaign activity. Biane listed expenses related to the travel as a golf outing with donors.
Unfortunately for Biane, the donors were from California not West Virginia. Biane never reimbursed the full amount for the travel, which is estimated at over $10,000. Biane’s disclosure indicates he reimbursed $300 for the charter and a few hundred dollars more for incidental expenses and golf.
Since the trip would not qualify as campaign-related activity, the entire excursion would be classified as a gift, and all of the associated cost over the annual gift limit would have to be personally reimbursed by Biane. No personal reimbursement occurred. The gift rule application would also require the trip to be listed on Biane’s FPPC Form 700 Statement of Economic Interest. It was not.
A review of Biane’s Form 700 available on-line at the San Bernardino County Clerk of the Board of Supervisors website makes no mention of a trip in September 2008. All of Biane’s disclosure statements were signed under penalty of perjury. Greg Devereaux at the time was the City Manger for Ontario.
Not being an elected officeholder, Devereaux had no campaign slush fund to exploit. Devereaux did attempt to reimburse at the common-carrier equivalent rule. However, that rule was changed on August 15, 2008 to require actual cost reimbursement. Devereaux is relying on the “bad advice” from the city attorney defense.
Other private jet trips involving Board Chairman Gary Ovitt, his Chief of Staff Mark Kirk, and Biane have also been under scrutiny. The perspective case against Biane and others would resemble a nearly identical matter regarding former county employee Jim Erwin. Ramos brought criminal charges against Jim Erwin, a longtime former street deputy sheriff who accepted a position on staff with an elected official, for similar alleged offenses.
Considering that Jim Erwin’s matter is being handled as a criminal matter, and other officials’ conduct is being handled by an administrative body, rather than a prosecutorial entity, the question therefore is: Why the double standard?
District Attorney Mike Ramos needs to come clean and clearly state exactly why he referred county supervisors’ ethical shortcomings to state administrators, rather than bring criminal sanctions against them, as he is doing in the case against Jim Erwin and Bill Postmus.
Monday, January 18, 2010
By CASSIE MACDUFF and IMRAN GHORI
The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office has asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission to determine whether Supervisor Paul Biane and newly hired county administrator Greg Devereaux violated disclosure laws by failing to report gifts they received from an unidentified person.
District attorney spokeswoman Susan Mickey said the office sent a letter to the FPPC a week ago asking for a legal opinion on whether the two men violated political reform laws.
The FPPC is expected to provide an answer within 30 days, Mickey said.
Devereaux confirmed Sunday that he is the subject of an FPPC “referral” — not a complaint, which would allege that a law had been violated. Mickey said the letter asks for an opinion.
Biane did not respond to a message left with his spokesman Sunday.
Devereaux, who has been Ontario’s city manager since 1997, said the matter relates to a trip he took on a private jet more than a year ago. He said the plane’s owner has never had any business before the city of Ontario or, to his knowledge, the county. He said he and the person considered it a personal trip, not business.
At the time, Devereaux said, he consulted Ontario City Attorney John Brown about reimbursing the plane’s owner, whom he would not name. Brown advised him he had to pay the cost of a commercial flight to the same destination, Devereaux said.
He reimbursed double the value of the trip, just to be safe, he said.
But unbeknown to Brown or Devereaux, the law had changed immediately before the trip, requiring a greater reimbursement, Devereaux said.
He and the lawyer are cooperating with the FPPC and will pay whatever the agency says is required to comply with the law.
Devereaux said the Board of Supervisors was aware of the FPPC inquiry before hiring him last week as the new county administrative officer. He assumes the post on Feb. 15.
Supervisors approved a 10-year contract Tuesday that will pay Devereaux $305,000 a year for the first five years. He will continue as a special adviser for another five years at $91,000 a year for the second half of the term.
Board Chairman Gary Ovitt said Devereaux was “more than forthcoming” about the matter. Ovitt said that as far as he is concerned, the FPPC inquiry is not an issue.
“I felt like he certainly meant to comply with the laws,” he said. “He’ll certainly do everything to make sure he meets the requirements.”
Supervisor Neil Derry called it an honest mistake.
Devereaux said his understanding is that such slip-ups are not uncommon when the state changes fair political practices laws.
InlandPolitics is receiving information regarding the referral to the Fair Political Practices Commission evidence gathered against certain high profile county/city officials by District Attorney Michael A. Ramos.
The referral occurred prior to the county’s clearing of Ramos in an active investigation regarding the DA and his operation.
The conduct referred to the State would in the Ramos’ own words be described as major violations.
However, no criminal charges were filed.
At this time a story is being prepared by a member of the blogpen as complete information is received. We expect the story to be released within the next thirty-six hours.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
According to reports on KFI 640’s John and Ken show, it turns out San Bernardino County Kari Verjil’s invalid signature figures are not quite accurate. As Mike Schroeder, coordinator for the recall effort has said all along, signature gatherers registered unregistered voters at the same time the petitions were signed, which is legal. According to reports, Verjil negated those signatures.
I am told that recall coordinators have begun an audit of the rejected signatures. Of the first 40 rejected signatures reviewed, 25 have in fact been determined to have been valid after all. This is a disgrace. Once again, one of our county officials has made our county look like its run by a bunch of incompetent hicks.
And it may be. A little over a year ago, I met with Joy Chadwick, now-Deputy Chief of Staff for Chairman of the Board Gary Ovitt. During that meeting Joy chastised me for exercising my rights as a United States citizen when I filed a formal complaint with Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office over the incompetence and favoritism shown towards certain candidates by Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil. She suggested that part of the reason I was having problems on the job was because I was outspoken about official misconduct. And like most of the rest of the officials I have dealt with on the Fifth Floor, she failed to conduct the investigation she promised me and, as usual, my complaints to her office about official misconduct was swept under the rug.
Now, here we are over a year later, and Joy is working for the Chairman’s office and her boss is up for re-election. And the county continues to sweep official misconduct under the rug. So, I’d like an answer. Does Supervisor Ovitt support this kind of incompetence? Does he care about the election process? Based on what his deputy Chief of Staff said to me, he supports this incompetence. And that is shameful. I hope Joy is wrong.
I know from my investigation last year that Kari Verjil plays favorites, making sure certain elected officials are immediately aware of anything their opponents file with the Registrar of Voter’s office. She also aids those that protect her to the detriment of other candidates as she did for Supervisors Dennis Hansberger and Brad Mitzelfelt last year.
It’s hard to say if the current fiasco is Verjil’s doing or was done on behalf of an official who supports Anthony Adams. It does not matter in the end if it changes the outcome or not. What matters is that it was done to begin with. The Registrar of Voters office should be above reproach. Today, instead, it is wrought with accusations of fraud and incompetence.
If the firing of Mark Uffer is not just a fluke but a serious effort at cleaning up San Bernardino County, then this Board of Supervisors needs to act immediately to restore the integrity of the elections process in this county. Kari Verjil is a Mark Uffer appointee and was protected by Mark. It’s time for her to go and its time for the Board of Supervisors to show its constituents its serious about restoring integrity to the elections process. And Supervisors Ovitt and Mitzelfelt need to be the loudest voices demanding Verjil’s resignation.
Shocking. Another day, another editorial in the Press Enterprise blasting the constitutional rights of politically-charged defendants Bill Postmus and Jim Erwin.
In a wholly-unsubstantiated editorial the PE criticizes former county official Jim Erwin and former county elected official Bill Postmus for exercising the rights granted them by the legal system. The PE called a perfectly acceptable court motion by Jim Erwin an "assault" on that legal system, and praised the ruling's outcome that resulted in a setback for Erwin.
The PE continues its unrelenting campaign against Bill Postmus and those associated with his former office. In the eyes of the Riverside Press Enterprise, Postmus, et al, are not innocent until proven guilty, they are guilty. Period.
In the PE's opinion the guilt of Postmus - and Erwin - is assured because the elected district attorney says it is. Case closed.
One would think that prosecutorial supremacy would be relegated to the annals of history, as seen in South America under right-wing military juntas or in the former USSR.
Sorry, PE editorial board. It doesn't work that way in the United States.
Bill Postmus and his "cronies" (their word, not ours) have every right to exercise the legal tools available to them. That means filing court motions, requests for information, issuing court pleadings, and seeking resolution via the proper process.
We have these rights because the founders realized that, by it's nature, the government has far more resources than an individual can ever hope to have. Even so, an individual can be charged without merit, and when the individual is a public figure, being charged is as bad as being convicted.
What Postmus and Erwin are doing is nothing different from the actions of hundreds of defendants in courtrooms across this country in every criminal case.
But the case against Postmus is different. It was launched by a political officer against other political officers. There is an obvious conflict, yet the PE continues to stick their head in the sand and ignore obvious facts.
District Attorney Mike Ramos is a controversial politician, and his investigation should be questioned and analyzed, so that the public can be assured the investigation's conclusions are 100% accurate.
This ambitious politician has already cost county taxpayers $350,000 for illegally firing a potential political rival. He is currently under two investigations for malfeasance. He has raised and accepted contributions from convicted money launderers.
Youthful politician Bill Postmus and former street deputy sheriff Jim Erwin are an embarrassment to the county after being charged by a district attorney with Ramos' baggage?
The Riverside Press Enterprise's blatant and shocking refusal to launch their investigations into the public life of Mike Ramos and his actions and conduct is a gross dereliction of duty. Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite would be appalled.
Rushing to judgment and accepting a prosecutor's version of events means the PE would be right at home in Videla's Argentina or Stalinist Russia.
The PE needs to end this double standard in their treatment of Ramos' prisoners versus the reported ethical shortfalls of Ramos himself.