Attorney: Former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin civil rights violated

Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 10/17/2011 02:19:00 PM PDT

The attorney defending former San Bernardino County Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin in a sweeping corruption probe is alleging that an FBI search of Erwin’s home was flawed and that Erwin’s civil rights were violated.

A motion filed by attorney Rajan Maline in U.S. District Court in Riverside on Oct. 11 is the second to be filed in the last three weeks challenging the strength of the Sept. 15 FBI raid in connection with an investigation into the county’s $102 million legal settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners LP in November 2006.

On Oct. 3, attorney Stephen Larson, who represents Colonies’ co-managing partner Jeff Burum, filed a motion with the court alleging Burum’s civil rights were violated and FBI agents essentially lied to him and in an official court document, tainting the search altogether.

Federal prosecutors dispute Larson’s claims. They argue in a motion filed in response to Larson’s that the search was conducted above-board and that an error in a court document was a mere oversight and unintentional.

Erwin, Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt, face criminal charges in a joint prosecution by the state Attorney General’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.

State and county prosecutors allege the four conspired to steer the landmark settlement in Colonies’ favor in exchange for bribes and political favors.

The settlement ended nearly five years of legal battle over flood-control improvements at Colonies’ 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland, Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads, respectively.
All four defendants deny any wrongdoing.

A federal investigation is now underway into allegations of bribery, extortion and fraud, according to the federal search warrant.

FBI agents seized three laptop computers, a desktop computer tower, two external hard drives, several compact discs, two flash drives, two Blackberries and a mobile phone during the Sept. 15 search at Erwin’s Highland home.

Warrants were also served at the homes of Kirk, Biane and Burum and at Burum’s Rancho Cucamonga home-building company, Diversified Pacific.

Maline also argues that the seizing of computers and Blackberries from Erwin’s home, some of which contained documents and other legal communications pertaining to Erwin’s criminal case, has hampered his ability to defend Erwin.

He says in his motion that those materials are covered by the attorney-client, work-product and joint-defense privileges.

Maline also argues that the federal warrant was overbroad and improperly authorized a fishing expedition at Erwin’s home.

“In short, the government unconstitutionally seized the haystack to look for the needle,” Maline said in his motion – the same allegation Larson made in his Oct. 3. motion.

Maline, like Larson, has requested that all the items and materials seized from Erwin’s home be returned.

Attorneys for Biane and Kirk could not be immediately reached for comment.

A hearing on the motions is scheduled for Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in Riverside.

- joe.nelson@inlandnewspapers.com

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