Enviros target Fish & Game commissioner

State Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Richards is also a developer with a history of clashing with environmental groups.

Now those groups are trying to play hardball to get him removed, alleging undisclosed conflicts of interests — and an intimate involvement in the saga of disgraced San Bernardino County assessor Bill Postmus. The environmentalists’ initial attack was dismissed in the courts, but they say others are coming.

Richards, meanwhile, has denied all wrongdoing.

In October, the Fair Political Practice Commission (FPCC) received and quickly dismissed a complaint against Richards by the Endangered Habitat League, an environmental group. But the group also says that documents submitted with the complaint show that Richards is “John Doe #2” named in a February indictment against Postmus and another man.  
John Doe #2, the  criminal complaint alleges, signed the $100,000 check to the San Bernardino County Young Republicans, and that money was used to threaten Postmus with a smear campaign if he didn’t vote in favor of a $102 million settlement for a company in which Richards is a partner.

“I am John Doe #2, for sure,” Richards said. “But it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the Commission. I’m not charged with anything, nor shall I be.”

Richards said the donation, made in June 2007, was in good faith, like hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations the company has made in recent years. He accused environmentalists of running a “smear” campaign against him because they don’t like the way he votes. The AG’s complaint alleges that donation was filtered through the group to coerce Postmus.

Richards was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in October, 2008. Since then, he has called the Marine Life Protection Act “corrupt,” railed against “radical environmentalists,” fired off angry letters to former state Resources secretary Mike Chrisman, and said that he no longer supports the governor who appointed him because he is too beholden to environmentalists and  government regulators.

The complaint contended that Richards had failed to disclose his interests in a pair of development companies, Colonies Partners LP and BGRW Lakes LLP, on his Form 700 statements of financial interest for 2007 and 2008. Richards’ financial disclosure forms dating back to his 2008 appointment don’t list either company exactly.

But he does list Colonies Crossroads LLP, an Upland-based company which counts dozens of well-known retailers among its commercial tenants. Numerous news stories list Richards as a partner with Colonies Partners, and he’s also listed as the “responsible officer” on the company’s campaign donation reports. Richards’ name appears along with that of business partner Jeff Burum on the 1998 incorporation papers for BGRW Lakes.

Overall, Richards listed interests in 15 different real estate companies. He listed six separate holdings in excess of $1 million each, including one in Colonies Crossroads.

“That’s my business,” Richards said when asked about the relationship between Colonies Partners and Colonies Crossroads. “The bottom line is I didn’t even have to disclose that. The FPPC actually said I’ve over-disclosed. I’ll have a much more amended filing next year.”

“It’s a little mystifying,” said Michael Fitts, an attorney representing the Endangered Species League, when asked about the complaint being dismissed. “They just said it was not the type of property that needs to be disclosed.”

Fitts added, “From what I understand, somebody representing the commissioner had told the FPPC the real estate holdings are not of the nature that would be under the jurisdiction of the Fish & Game Commission.”

But Fitts also said that his clients do not consider the case closed — and notes that Richards could still potentially face legal trouble due to the Postmus case.

“It is important to recognize that he hasn’t been convicted or charged with anything yet,” Fitts said. “But certainly the interests he’s been associating with are implicated in something pretty serious.”

That something “pretty serious” is allegedly the conspiracy that got Postmus in so much trouble. Postmus was elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2000 at only 28 years of age, then moved over to become county assessor in 2006. He also spent time as the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party.

In 2008, Postmus’ once-promising political career started to unravel. That April, he was hit with a Grand Jury investigation for selling his vote, among other allegations. In January of 2009, he was arrested for methamphetamine possession. Postmus resigned the following month.

This past February, Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office filed a 19-page indictment against Postmus and James Howard Erwin, then the chief of staff to county supervisor Neil Derry. The document lays out an alleged conspiracy involving Colonies.

According to a press release issued by the AG’s office at the time, “In 2002, Colonies filed a lawsuit against the County seeking to recover $23.5 million it had spent on flood-control improvements and challenging the County’s easement rights that it claimed deprived Colonies of its rights to develop the property.”

Four years later, on Nov. 28, 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve a $102 million settlement agreement with Colonies. Postmus, then chairman of the board, cast one of the deciding votes in favor of the settlement. The AG’s complaint goes on to allege that Colonies transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to Postmus and Erwin using various political action committees, in exchange for Postmus’ vote on the settlement.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office confirmed that they haven’t charged anyone besides Postmus and Erwin.

The AG’s complaint also alleges that Erwin used the $100,000 from the check Richards signed to prepare political mailers — used as a threat and never sent — portraying Postmus as a drug addict and a homosexual. According to numerous news reports, Postmus was both, and some allege that he had a long history of turning to drugs because he was uncomfortable with his sexual orientation.

Richards’ name does not appear in the indictment. But “John Doe #2” who is “a general partner of Colonies Partners LP” pops up a half dozen times in the complaint.

In keeping with a longstanding policy, the AG’s office will not comment on the identities of unnamed people whose names show up in criminal complaints, nor would they say if there may be further indictments coming out of the case.

The document does link John Doe #2 to several alleged illegal acts: concocting “a scheme to obtain a monetary settlement from the County through corrupt means; attempting to “influence members of the Board of Supervisors through a combination of threats, extortion, inducements, and bribery in order to secure their vote in favor of a settlement.”

It goes on to state that “John Doe #2 signed check #4579 for $100,000 from Colonies to the San Bernardino County Young Republicans PAC.”  

Colonies Partners has been a major political donor to conservative and Republican causes, largely in local elections. According to records with the Secretary of State’s office, Colonies Partners gave out more than $900,000 in the 2007-08 election cycle. This followed $642,000 in giving in the 2005-06 cycle, and abou
t $155,000 the cycle before that. Records show no giving in the 2009-10 cycle.

The Fish and Game Commission has been meeting Dec. 15 and 16 in Santa Barbara to discuss several items relating to Marine Life Protection Act, a 1999 law calling for a series of coastal reserves to protect species and habitat. On Sept. 28, the Sacramento Bee quoted Richards as saying “This process, the Marine Life Protection Act, is so corrupt, so offensive it’s unimaginable. Gov. Schwarzenegger is a forked-tongue devil.”

“It’s the  dirty side involved in the public process,” Richards said of the efforts against him. “Someone doesn’t like your positions, so they try to smear you personally.”

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: