SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) - Two former San Bernardino County officials accepted bribes of $100,000 each for their help in approving a $102 million fraudulent settlement with a land developer, state Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. claims in Superior Court, in what he calls "one of the most appalling corruption cases ever seen in California."
William Postmus, former chairman of the county board of supervisors, and James Erwin, former chief of staff to supervisor Neil Derry, accepted $100,000 each to push the hefty settlement, which was funded with taxpayer money, the lawsuit claims.
The settlement stemmed from a 2002 lawsuit filed by land developer Colonies, which demanded $23.5 million for flood-control costs and claimed the county's easement rights to a flood-control basin was blocking development.
In November 2006, the board voted 3-2 to approve the settlement, against the advice of county and private attorneys, Brown claims. He says the settlement was only approved because of $400,000 in bribes paid to four individuals, including Erwin and Postmus.
Erwin allegedly took $100,000 for his role in convincing the board to enter into the settlement, and Postmus walked away with a $100,000 bribe for his vote of approval, according to Brown.
The lawsuit claims Erwin blackmailed Postmus by drafting political mailers depicting Postmus as a drug addict and homosexual. Erwin also threatened to expose damaging information on another board member, who then voted in favor of the settlement, Brown claims.
Colonies allegedly flew Erwin by private jet to New York and Washington and covered lodging, entertainment and prostitutes. Brown also claims private investigators sifted through Postmus' trash to find incriminating information.
Postmus allegedly poured his $100,000 bribe into two political action committees, and then moved some funds into his campaign account for meals and entertainment. He resigned from his position as chairman last February.
"This is one of the most appalling corruption cases ever seen in California, and we will aggressively pursue this conspiracy until all of the facts are exposed," Brown said in a statement.
If convicted on all counts, Erwin faces up to 12 years in prison and Postmus could spend eight years behind bars.
Erwin faces felony charges of conspiracy, extortion, misappropriation of public funds, corrupt influencing, offering bribes and forgery.
Postmus is charged with conspiracy, accepting a bribe, conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds.
"It is critical that confidence in their government be restored to the residents of San Bernardino County, said San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos. "This is just one more step in achieving that goal."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.