Seized files to be returned to Burum

In a rare move, federal prosecutors have agreed to return materials to a Rancho Cucamonga developer that were seized in September as part of an investigation into alleged corruption surrounding the $102 million lawsuit settlement between Colonies Partners LP and San Bernardino County.

The materials were seized by FBI agents serving search warrants at the offices and home of developer Jeff Burum, Colonies co-managing partner, and looking into alleged bribery and conspiracy related to the landmark 2006 settlement.

Stephen Larson, Burum’s attorney and a former federal judge, argued in the days after the Sept. 15 search that agents erred by taking documents and other materials not covered under the warrant.

The materials now will be returned as part of a written stipulation, or legal agreement, between Larson and federal prosecutors. The stipulation was signed Monday by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero.

Larson declined to comment.

The stipulation comes about three weeks after prosecutors admitted to providing incorrect information to a federal judge about the search of Larson’s office at the Diversified Pacific building in Rancho Cucamonga.

FBI agents erroneously told Judge Oswald Parada that they did a walk-through of Larson’s office, with Larson’s consent and in his presence, on Sept. 15. In a motion filed Oct. 11 in U.S. District Court in Riverside, prosecutors and agents admitted the information was incorrect.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said nothing in the agreement reached with Burum’s attorneys indicates the search was not properly conducted.

“We continue to maintain that the search was constitutional,” said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. “There’s nothing in the stipulation that suggests that the government is admitting, in any way, that the search was improper.”

Prosecutors will continue to oppose Burum’s motions in relation to the search warrant, Mrozek said.

After getting back the seized materials, Larson will review them and make a log of those he believes should be protected by attorney-client communication, attorney work-product or joint defense privileges, according to the stipulation.

A special group of agents not involved in the investigation will give Larson a copy of digital materials they believe are subject to seizure. Larson will then produce a similar log for privileged digital materials.

Prosecutors have apparently backed off their objection to a court-appointed special master, according to the stipulation. Seized materials that cannot resolved by both sides will go to the special master for resolution.

A hearing is set for Nov. 10 to discuss copies of the seized documents.

On May 9, the Grand Jury indicted Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt. They have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and conflict of interest, among other charges.

The four are accused of conspiring to secure the settlement in Colonies’ favor in exchange for bribes and political favors.

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