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Former county attorney reportedly 'joked' about killing critic

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By The Staff

Former Jefferson County Attorney Frank Hutfless "joked" in 2006 about having a county critic who is suing Jeffco killed, according to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report.

Hutfless made the remarks about longtime county critic Mike Zinna on two separate occasions to County Administrator Jim Moore, according to the report. Moore was interviewed by the CBI on Feb. 21, 2007, as part of the agency's investigation into whether Commissioner Jim Congrove improperly used county funds to hire a private eye to investigate county critics and county employees. The report was part of the investigation turned over to the Adams County District Attorney's Office, which declined to pursue charges in the Congrove case.

The first alleged “joke” occurred Feb. 22, 2006, after a contentious county commissioners' meeting Zinna attended. After the meeting, another meeting was held, attended by the then-commissioners — Kevin McCasky, Jim Congrove and Dave Auburn —and Hutfless and Moore. Hutfless told the group he had spoken to a law firm that could "take care of" Zinna, and that he would get a proposal. Hutfless further said that “ ‘the company can do anything including having a person shot,’ ” the CBI report reads. Moore told the investigators he didn't take the comments seriously and considered them "chest-beating, hot-air kind of stuff."

It's unclear whether that meeting was legal under the Colorado Open Meetings Law. Public meetings — at which at least two public officials converse about public business — require at least a 24-hour public notice, according to state law. "Frank Hutfless interpreted the law, and he believed he could give legal advice to the Board of County Commissioners without the meeting being posted," McCasky said May 14.

The second “joke” came on March 1, 2006, when Hutfless stopped by Moore's office and told him he had spoken to a California law firm about Zinna, and the firm wanted $14,000 to conduct a “threat assessment.”

Hutfless then allegedly told Moore, according to the CBI report, “that he had friends in California that have ‘Mafia ties,' and he could 'make one phone call and have Zinna taken care of.' " The report then outlines how Hutfless told Moore about two people who had been relocated to different countries by Mafia friends. They were "given $10,000 and a plane ticket, and told it was either this way or the other way."

" ‘It happens all the time; no one ever knows what happens,’ " the report said Hutfless told Moore. " ‘People just disappear; how easy it is to fly someone out over the Pacific Ocean dropping them out of an airplane; there is no trace.’ "

A CBI agent called Hutfless and asked him about the comments, and Hutfless said he was frustrated over Zinna at the time and "probably did make those statements out of frustration."

"I don't recall saying anything like that," Hutfless said May 13 in a phone interview with the Courier. "If they were made, it wasn't with any kind of serious intent." He added that if he did make the comments, they were made with "tongue in cheek."

When asked if it was appropriate for a Jefferson County official to even joke about having a critic and litigant killed, Hutfless said, "Probably not. If those kinds of things were said, it probably wouldn't be." He further denied having any friends in the Mafia or knowing how to have someone "relocated."

"No, it's just laughable," Hutfless said. "I don't have any recollection of that whatsoever. I don't know anyone in the Mafia, don't know about having anyone 'relocated,' and candidly it sounds like something off a bad B movie or a ‘Godfather’ sequel."

Hutfless resigned as county attorney on Feb. 9, 2007, and is now working in private business.

Moore said May 14 that although he still believes Hutfless’ comments were not serious, the commissioners at the time heard them, and the amount of detail in the second conversation was "disturbing."

"They were listening, and didn't get into a whole lot of detail about it," Moore said of the first time the comments were made to him and the commissioners. "It was mainly Frank talking. We all clearly heard what he was saying." The second conversation "got my attention. It was very disturbing, whether he was joking or just making it up. Either one led me to the same conclusion, that we need someone else to represent the county in this case."

Why wasn't Hutfless punished or dealt with in some other way?

"These types of comments were made in front of the commissioners," Moore said, adding that both he and the county attorney report directly to the commissioners, and he doesn't have the power to fire the county attorney.

"I discussed it with Mike Norton, who was my attorney, and asked him if it was something I should take seriously and report to law enforcement," Moore said. "He assured me people would not be making these kinds of statements if they were serious about it."

Moore added that although he believes the comments were made in jest, they were not appropriate.

McCasky said May 13 that he never heard Hutfless make the comments during the Feb. 22, 2006, meeting, and never heard anything from Moore.

McCasky remembers Hutfless relaying a statement made by the principal of a security firm, and when that person mentioned eliminating the problem altogether, he said, Hutfless immediately ended the conversation.

"Most importantly for me, once the CBI and special prosecutor finished their review and the investigation was over, the case was behind us, and ee I'm focusing on the business operation of the county, the financial operations, improving the transportation network and creating economic opportunity in Jefferson County," McCasky said. "It's over and done with."

If McCasky had heard Hutfless joke about killing a litigant, would he have asked him to resign?

"I'm not going to speculate as to what I would have done two years ago on this matter without the facts," McCasky said. "I don't have any facts in front of me."

"In no way, shape or form would the Board of County Commissioners, in any stretch of the imagination, condone or support any kind of talk like having anyone killed or anything like that," McCasky said May 14.

For Zinna, revelations about Hutfless’ comments confirm his feelings about county officials, and about the validity of his lawsuit.

"I think that these comments indicate a grotesque double standard,” Zinna said. “If any citizen made the same comments made by Frank Hutfless — threats on a county official — we'd be in handcuffs in the blink of an eye."

CBI spokesman Lance Clem said that agency director Robert Cantwell didn't want to comment on the report. Clem did not say whether charges were contemplated against Hutfless over the comments.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.