Former San Bernardino County assessor’s employee held for trial

A former San Bernardino County official must stand trial on corruption charges stemming from a probe at the assessor’s office, a superior court judge ruled Friday.

Judge Duke Rouse found that there was enough evidence to try Rex Gutierrez on charges of grand theft and misappropriation of public funds. The two felony counts carry a sentence of up to four years in prison.

Gutierrez, a Rancho Cucamonga city councilman, is one of five former assessor’s officials arrested in a corruption investigation of the office under former Assessor Bill Postmus, who also is facing felony charges.

During the course of two days of testimony in a preliminary hearing that began Jan. 15 and concluded on Friday, the district attorney’s office sought to show that Gutierrez was appointed to the post of intergovernmental affairs officer as a political favor and defrauded the county by rarely showing up for work.

Prosecutors presented records showing that Gutierrez on several occasions turned in timecards and collected paychecks for regular eight-hour workdays when he was elsewhere conducting Rancho Cucamonga business.

Gutierrez’s attorney, James Vincent Reiss, argued that the case belonged in civil court and was not a criminal matter.

Deputy District Attorney John Nicholas Goritz countered that the testimony showed “many, many examples where (Gutierrez) was lying, cheating and stealing from the County of San Bernardino.”

Reiss said the ruling was not a surprise. He said he planned to file a motion to seek dismissal of the charges. If the case does go to trial, Reiss anticipated he would challenge the credibility of Adam Aleman, a former assistant assessor who supervised Gutierrez.

“We believe their whole case rises and falls on Adam Aleman,” Reiss said.

Aleman was arrested in 2008 on charges of destroying public documents and providing false testimony. In July 2009, he agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony.

Investigators cited interviews with Aleman in testifying about Gutierrez during the preliminary hearing. Aleman told them that Postmus hired Gutierrez at the request of Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and he could not be disciplined for that reason, the investigators said.

Burum has denied any wrongdoing.

Schyler Beaty, a senior district attorney investigator, testified that shortly after Gutierrez got the job he was involved in decisions that benefited one of Burum’s companies, including a $43.5 million agreement for affordable-housing projects.

In his cross-examination, Reiss noted that the council vote was unanimous and was an extension of a 1993 contract, which Beaty agreed was accurate. Under questioning by Goritz, Beaty said the council approved the agreement despite concerns of the city attorney and redevelopment director and that Gutierrez objected to their requests for further study.

Reach Imran Ghori at 951-368-9558 or ighori@PE.com

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