Prosecutor finds merit in claims

BOCC disagrees with violations finding

Moffat County commissioners disagreed with a special prosecutor's conclusion that they committed "technical violations" of the budget and expenditure process as set by Colorado law.

An 18-month investigation by special prosecutor Lawson Wills of the 9th Judicial District in Pitkin County ended Tuesday when he released a four-page report in response to three affidavits filed by Stan Hathhorn of Craig against two commissioner boards.

Wills released his findings two days before the matter was to appear before Chief District Judge Michael O'Hara.

Despite finding that the commissioners broke state laws, Wills did not file charges in connection with the allegations because, he said, the violations were not intentional and no commissioner improperly benefited from them.

"My take on it was they were very straightforward on problems that came up. ... Their intentions were always good," Wills said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The commissioners emphasized similar statements included in Wills' report.

"Basically it says no malfeasance on any affidavits," Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.

But the commissioners pointed to what they said were numerous inconsistencies in Wills' conclusions of wrongdoing Wednesday.

They complained that Wills never contacted them or the county attorney to give them the chance to defend themselves during his investigation.

"I didn't see any need to talk to the commissioners," Wills said.

He conducted his investigation by reading commissioner meeting minutes and Hathhorn's affidavits, reviewing paperwork and budgets, and studying state laws.

He described the investigation as "new ground," because he typically doesn't deal with county budget laws.

In the first affidavit, Hathhorn alleged that the 1999 commissioner board broke state statutes when contracting communication services with NC Telecom. Those allegations included improper publication of bid opening and inadequate execution of the telecommunications contract, and failure to properly appropriate the contract expenditure.

He concluded that at least a portion of the allegations "have merit," but did not specify which ones.

In his report, Wills inaccurately reported that T. Wright Dickinson, Raftopoulos and Les Hampton sat on the commissioner board in 1999.

Hampton did not take office until January 2001.

Joe Janosec sat on the board during the time in question.

Raftopoulos disagreed with Wills' conclusion that the commissioners violated the bidding process when they awarded the multimillion-dollar telecommunications contract.

Commissioners sent requests for proposals to 11 companies through certified mail, and the contract was advertised in three newspapers, she said.

Hathhorn's second affidavit alleged a commissioner board composed of Raftopoulos, Hampton and Darryl Steele illegally transferred money between funds for debt payment.

When the county was short of money in the jail fund to make a lease payment on certificates of participation for the Public Safety Center, the treasurer wired the money from the general fund to Wells Fargo Bank before the commissioners passed a resolution, the commissioners said.

The payment was a loan to the jail fund and therefore didn't require a resolution, Steele said. But the commissioners still passed a resolution the next day, just to clear up confusion.

Moreover, certificates of participation payments aren't legally debt payment, and therefore, the loan didn't constitute a violation of state law, which prohibits the use of general fund money for debt payment, Steele said.

Wills concluded these actions were illegal but decided not to press charges because the commissioners quickly remedied the situation.

Wills determined that allegations in Hathhorn's third affidavit were unfounded.

Hathhorn alleged that the commissioners committed malfeasance by transferring microwave communications equipment to the Colorado State Patrol.

The commissioners purchased the equipment to entice the state patrol to lease space in the newly built Public Safety Center, Wills wrote. Purchasing the equipment for this purpose did not suggest an indiscretion of funds.

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