For several weeks last year, anyone appearing before the county commissioners to offer public comment found himself staring into a tripod-mounted video camera.
The camera, operated by a mystery man who declined to identify himself to the Courier or to anyone else, often was removed or turned off following what became a routine Tuesday morning denunciation from longtime county critic Mike Zinna.
And if you believe Zinna, who has long held a grudge against the commission over several of his failed lawsuits and land deals, that camera was paid for by the county for no reason other than to intimidate him and others who chose to speak.
I cant think of a damn reason why the camera would be there, other than to intimidate someone who wants to get up there and speak their mind, Zinna said.
Zinna, who for a time operated the radio program Colorado Exposed along with a companion website he used to attack several Jeffco officials, has always asserted that the camera was oddly out of place.
The identity of the camera operator, and why he was filming public testimony that was already being recorded on audio tape by the county, remained minor mysteries that were all but forgotten by many observers after the camera suddenly stopped showing up sometime late last year.
But on July 26, some light was shed on the man behind the lens leading Zinna to believe he has undeniable proof that it was Jeffco taxpayers who footed the bill for the camera work.
Facing a civil lawsuit filed by a former associate who alleges money is still owed to him for work done on a website project Zinna subpoenaed Daril Cinquanta, a former Denver police detective turned private investigator, to give a sworn deposition as a witness to a series of events that purportedly led to the lawsuit.
Cinquanta, owner of Professional Investigators Inc. of Arvada, is also at the heart of an ongoing Colorado Bureau of Investigation inquiry into why his firm was paid more than $7,400 over 16 months to spy on people at the countys request.
Zinna says that, during the deposition, he asked Cinquanta whether he knew anything about the camera and its mystery operator. Jefferson County District Judge Randall C. Arp required the private eye to answer the question, Zinna recalled.
Cinquantas answer was simple and to the point, according to Zinna.
He said the video camera operator was an employee of Professional Investigators and that the county paid him (to aim the camera at the podium), Zinna said. Cinquanta testified that the name of the private investigator that operated the video camera is Brett Cabral.
The name Brett Cabral did not appear to be listed in the phone book on Monday, and no one by that name could be reached for comment.
The official written transcripts of the deposition were not immediately available from the court, but Zinna has agreed to make them available to the Courier later this week.
A request for comments about the camera and the validity of Cinquantas testimony went unanswered by a county spokeswoman last week. A request for any videotapes of the meetings made by Cinquantas firm, made under the Colorado Open Records Act, was met with a short written statement: The county does not have any such videotapes.
Zinna responded sharply to that news.
When you hire a guy to do bad things you dont want evidence around, he said.
The county cannot prove through other paperwork if it did or did not specifically include the video production work in its payments to Cinquanta, since all of the bills submitted to the board that have been made public make mostly vague references to research and surveillance work.
An assistant county attorney did acknowledge that Cinquanta was being deposed by Zinna, but said he did not know if the videotapes existed, if the county attorneys office authorized their creation or if the tapes were in the countys possession.
When asked whether he knew about any agreement between the county and Cinquantas cameraman, Republican Commissioner Jim Congrove initially said he didnt know anything about it, because that was all Frank referring to former county attorney Frank Hutfless, who resigned earlier this year amid a public feud with Congrove.
Congrove has long said Hutfless was the one who contracted with Cinquanta, although he admits he signed off on some bills for mostly unspecified services from Professional Investigators. Congrove is friends with Cinquanta and recommended his company to Hutfless at one point.
After further questioning about the camera, though, Congrove seemed to indicate he at least approved of the move.
If you had a camera on you and you knew you were being taped and you were thinking about doing something stupid would you do it? Congrove said.
Zinna shot back.
My right to be there is well documented, he countered. My behavior has always been appropriate. Ive never been accused of doing anything inappropriate at a county commissioner meeting.
Republican Commissioner Kevin McCasky said he had no knowledge about any services Cinquanta was contracted to provide. He did, however, recall the camera and its operator.
My interaction was via the county administrator, with this videographer, McCasky said, explaining that he asked County Administrator Jim Moore at one point to ask the operator to move the camera away from the center of the commissioners hearing room.
I can confirm the county administrator did speak to him, and asked him to move so it would not be distracting, McCasky continued. He never came back to a hearing after that. I dont know who the guy was or who he was employed by.
He said the countys standing policy is to allow video cameras at public hearings, so long as they do not interfere with the flow of events.
According to Zinna, Cinquanta also testified in the July 26 deposition that he turned over all his work products and related materials to the client. McCasky said he has seen almost no work products that Cinquanta allegedly turned over to the county attorneys office including any videotapes.
Senior executives have a significant amount of autonomy, McCasky said, referring to Hutfless decision to hire an outside private eye. I was not aware that we hired a private investigator until October 2006, for any of these particular services.
If the county attorney would have asked me if we should videotape any individual, I can assure you I would be extremely reluctant at a minimum. (Zinna) had already filed a civil rights claim against us. In hindsight, the video may be used as evidence to prove he had unfettered access (to the commissioners at public hearings).
While the county has said it required the use of a private eye to help defend itself against potential litigation, since Jeffco has no in-house detectives, McCasky conceded that we did have this particular individual on audio recording. I believe that would suffice as evidence or documentation.
He went on to say that he has been asking other officials about what services Cinquanta provided since he found out about the investigative work.
Youre asking the same questions I asked last November. Basically, the county attorney at the time had said to me, I did not require any reports. I can assure you that any direction by the board of county commissioners in matters in the future resulting in any outside contractor in support of litigation you can rest assured Im going to see every report. I will demand to be copied on it as soon as it appears on the desk of the county attorney.
He did not say whether the system that allowed the commissioners to sign off on the $7,000 worth of spying-related bills, without alerting the board as to what services were being paid for, has or would change.