Public Trustees Got Thousands in Campaign Gifts Linked to State’s Top Foreclosure Lawyer
August 15, 2011
Three public trustees have accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the state’s top foreclosure lawyer and companies and individuals tied to him.
A fourth trustee, as treasurer of a colleague’s campaign, solicited and received a contribution from the lawyer’s wife.
The contributions are the latest in a list of financial and political connections Denver attorney Larry Castle has forged over the years with the state’s public trustees, who are charged with impartially overseeing the foreclosure process.
Castle, his law partners at Castle Stawiarski, several junior lawyers and employees, and a variety of business entities tied to him have contributed more than $25,000 to the trustees who ran for public office, campaign-finance records show.
“This is a brilliant and classic example of money in politics, where people give to get or just want to say thanks,” said Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. “The trustees are obligated to be above- board, and the whole concept of public trust is right there in their title.”
Two trustees — El Paso County Public Trustee Thomas Mowle and former Boulder County Public Trustee Sandy Hume — took contributions while serving in that job and running for a different public office.
Recommended Stories For You
A third, Park County Treasurer and Public Trustee Michelle Miller, saw contributions from Castle and others in his firm make up nearly all the money raised for her unopposed election campaigns in 2006 and 2010, records show.
The fourth, Adams County Public Trustee Carol Snyder, was treasurer for Clerk Karen Long’s campaign when Castle’s wife and law partner, Caren, donated.
Funds cited as nothing but innocent support
Trustees of the state’s 11 largest counties are appointed to the job — 10 of them by the governor. The others are elected as county treasurer and also serve as trustee.
Mowle, Miller and Snyder dismissed any notion that the funds were anything but innocent support. Hume did not respond to requests for comment.
There are no laws preventing the trustees from running for public office or accepting contributions from those with whom they do business.
“Once it’s in the world of campaign finance, it’s legal,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “It’s a legal way of buying goodwill, but the theory is at least it’s disclosed.”
Mowle, an unsuccessful candidate for El Paso County clerk and recorder, last year accepted nearly $13,000 in contributions from Castle and a variety of the businesses in which he holds an interest.
Castle contributed $2,250, and his wife contributed $1,250. Castle’s law firm also threw a fundraising party for Mowle at Castle’s downtown Denver office in May 2010. Contributions came from Castle employees, attorneys who work for him and several other public trustees who attended the event.
Mowle said he has no issue with accepting money from individuals who do business with his office, and he checked with then-Gov. Bill Ritter’s office to be sure he could.
“They said that it was fine to accept them,” Mowle said. “I didn’t approach the Castle firm or anyone associated with them to request the contributions.”
Castle has refused to comment regarding his business practices or his ties with the trustees.
Government Technology Systems, a company Castle has an interest in, provides the computer system that processes foreclosures in eight of the 12 largest public trustee offices in the state. GTS is paid $45 for every foreclosure case it services.
GTS is in use in Boulder, El Paso and Adams counties. Park County is considering a switch to GTS, whose one-year contracts are renewed annually.
Both Mowle and Hume were appointed to their jobs by the governor. Mowle has been trustee since 2007 and was reappointed this year. Hume was replaced in 2007.
Hume accepted $4,400 in campaign contributions in 2004 from several companies connected to Castle in an unsuccessful bid for state Senate. Two years later, Hume inked a no-bid contract with GTS, giving it exclusive rights to run the county’s entire foreclosure process.
As treasurer of a small county, Miller by law also serves as the county public trustee and is paid a stipend for that job.
Campaign-finance records show Miller first accepted a $500 donation from Castle in July 2006.
The following month, Miller’s campaign chest grew by another $2,500 — a large amount for an uncontested position in a rural county. The funds — made up of five contributions of $500 each — came from Castle, his wife, his partners Don Meinhold and Leo Stawiarski, and Castle’s personal secretary, Arlene Briody, records show.
Only two other people contributed to Miller’s campaign, each for $100.
Contributions a “nonissue,” Miller says
Miller called the Castle contributions a “nonissue” since she doesn’t solicit business from Castle or the companies tied to him. They come to her, she said.
“I don’t go out and get the business from him,” Miller said of Castle.
As an elected official, Snyder never received any Castle- connected contributions in all her years in office — as a state representative and Adams County clerk and recorder.
But last year, while serving as campaign treasurer for Long — her former chief deputy when Snyder held the clerk’s job — Caren Castle donated $5,000 to Long’s re-election campaign. Snyder, first appointed trustee in 2007, said she solicited the contribution.
“I called several people I know to see if they wanted to contribute to Ms. Long’s campaign,” Snyder said in an e-mail to The Denver Post. “Some friends and family, some attorneys I worked for many years ago, some foreclosure attorneys and some of my old campaign contributors.”
In all, Long’s campaign raised $7,955 from 26 contributors last year.
Long said the Castle contribution “surprised” her.
“I had very few contributions other than that one,” she said. “It was absolutely a surprise, and it’s nice to get it. I simply thought it was someone who wanted to see me continue in office. I’ve no reason to believe anything else.”