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Former San Bernardino County assistant assessor is arrested

March 20, 2009|David Kelly

A widening criminal probe of the San Bernardino County assessor's office led to the arrest Thursday of James Erwin, chief of staff for county Supervisor Neil Derry and a former assistant assessor, on 10 felony counts including "failure to disclose receipt of prostitution and masseuse services."

Investigators from the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit said Erwin did not disclose a number of gifts and services he received, as legally required, and then lied about it.

The alleged gifts include a Rolex watch, theater tickets, hotel rooms in New York City, round-trip airfare on a private jet, food and beverages and the prostitution services.

Authorities would not say who they believe gave Erwin the gifts. He also is accused of filing a false declaration of income.

The former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy, who once headed the deputies' union, was taken into custody at the county government center and held on $220,000 bail.

He is charged with eight counts of perjury and two counts of falsifying documents while assistant assessor. If convicted, he could face up to 11 years in state prison.

In January, former Assessor Bill Postmus was arrested on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Supervisor Derry said he had placed Erwin, 46, on indefinite administrative leave.

"Today's events are disappointing and shocking, but the allegations listed by the D.A.'s office against Mr. Erwin are related to activities prior to employment with my office," Derry said. "And while all Americans are presumed innocent until proven guilty, those who hold positions of public trust must be held to the highest standard of conduct."

The arrest darkens the cloud over the troubled assessor's office.

Last April, investigators raided Postmus' office, seizing documents and laptop computers. Soon after, Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman was arrested and charged with six felonies, including falsifying documents and destroying public records.

In January, 50 agents from the district attorney's office raided 10 sites in San Bernardino and Orange counties, looking for evidence of criminal misconduct. They arrested Postmus after finding what they said was methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in his Rancho Cucamonga apartment. Postmus, free on bail, later resigned. At the time, authorities also searched Erwin's office and carried off his computer.

A grand jury report last year strongly criticized the way the assessor's office was run, saying employees were inexperienced and doing campaign work during office hours.

Erwin testified before the grand jury about his own experiences while assistant assessor. Derry said that Erwin quit because he didn't like the way the office was run.

"I have known Jim a long time, for 15 years, but no one is above the law," Derry said. "I will continue to monitor the situation closely to make sure justice is done wherever corruption occurs."

Susan Mickey, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the criminal investigation into Postmus and the assessor's office is continuing.

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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