By Brian Maass
The grand jury began meeting this month, hearing from witnesses and listening to evidence alleging “official misconduct” on the part of Williams and his office. First-degree official misconduct is a misdemeanor.
Ken Lane, a spokesperson for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, responded to a CBS4 inquiry, ”I can confirm there is an open investigation in the Denver Grand Jury relating to the Colorado Secretary of State, and that it concerns campaign finance complaints and the collection of campaign finance penalties. Per the rules and procedures governing grand jury proceedings, we cannot comment further on pending grand jury investigations.”
In an on camera interview Thursday with CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass, Williams said he wasn’t overly concerned about the grand jury probe.
”I am not because I believe that everything we’ve done has followed Colorado law.”
The probe was sparked by complaints filed with the DA’s office by Matt Arnold, a longtime Republican who runs a website- Campaign Integrity Watchdog- which regularly files complaints against both Republicans and Democrats for suspected campaign finance violations. Those complaints have led to penalties sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars.
Arnold’s complaint is twofold; In one case, he maintains Williams and his office failed to try to collect a $9,650 campaign finance judgment against the political action committee Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills. Arnold contends that PAC was formed and controlled by a longtime political associate of Williams.
“The Secretary of State has refused to carry out his duties to collect about $10,000 worth of penalties owed by an organization run by an ally of his,” said Arnold.
Williams told CBS4 he had not collected the money “because the entity has no money.”
Arnold says a more serious problem being examined by the grand jury is Williams office using at least $25,000 in state money to legally intervene in at least half a dozen campaign finance cases.
According to Arnold’s complaint, ”Williams, in committing state resources to essentially act as defense counsel for several lawbreaking organizations and individuals, all of whom are his allies and/or contributors, acts unethically and is without parallel on the record. Consequently, Secretary Williams has, in an unauthorized exercise of his official function, directed the misuse of over $25,000 of taxpayer (public) funds for the benefit of the above-listed committees – all of whom are run by associates and political allies of Secretary Williams, who has put favors to friends above his duties to his office, the state of Colorado, and the citizens of this state, from late 2015 through at least the end of 2016 (and continuing).”
The Secretary of State disputed those assertions.
“We have done exactly what Colorado law provides. We intervened in campaign finance complaints on behalf of the people of the state of Colorado for Republicans and Democrats. Those interventions,” said Williams,”have been done with the permission of the court and have not been done secretly. They have been done publicly and with judicial permission. We do it based on the merits of the action not based on who’s bringing the complaint. I don’t do anything because of who a particular person is.”
Williams told CBS4 that he received a letter from the Denver DA’s office last summer requesting documents. He said his office complied. He said he recently received another subpoena for documents his office had already supplied.
“We’re happy to comply,” said Williams.
He and Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert have both received subpoenas to appear before the Denver grand jury on April 11.
There is no timeline on the length of the grand jury investigation. It can end with the panel recommending criminal charges, or recommending “no true bill,” which would mean no criminal charges. The grand jury can also opt to issue a report when its work is completed.
CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.