Woe, Pioneers

A whole new crop of problems is sprouting in a historic black farming settlement

"You can talk about a conflict of interest and the perception of a conflict," says Bill Gwaltney, a representative with the National Park Service in Wyoming. "The perception is enough to make you wonder if something is going on."

The perception was also enough to make the Park Service back off from participating in future events. "I felt uncomfortable enough to go on record immediately," Gwaltney continues. "We can't be involved in this kind of scenario. If it isn't resolved, we can't participate in anything."

Gwaltney's colleague at the Park Service, Sandra Washington, who helped facilitate the event, adds, "Both of us expressed some concern about conflicts of interest. We didn't want to work with [the museum] on an ongoing basis. We'd have to look at it really, really carefully."

Lane Ittelson, deputy state historic preservation officer for the Colorado Historical Society, says he came in late during the meeting and missed some of the introductions. But he describes the Bookhardts' comments about Boon and Boon's plans as "very confusing and very vague. I'm not sure what the relationship is, but I'm a little confused by it. There's a potential for a conflict of interest."

Ittelson says he knew that Boon and Boon owned several parcels of land around Dearfield. The surprise, he says, was finding out that the company had development plans--and that the daughter of the firm's Colorado agent was on the museum board. "When I found out later she was a boardmember, that was a surprise," says Ittelson. "She talked about Boon and Boon and then left, and it was clear her role was with Boon and Boon."

Dawn Bookhardt did not return several phone calls from Westword. But museum director McNair says that Bookhardt has offered to recuse herself from any vote about Dearfield taken by the board of directors.

Bookhardt is a partner in the Denver law firm of Bookhardt & O'Toole, the former firm of L. Tyrone Holt, a close confidant of Webb's who in 1992 was suspended from the practice of law for one year after admitting to income-tax evasion and cocaine abuse. In 1994 Bookhardt & O'Toole received a controversial contract from the Webb administration to investigate the possibility of suing Denver broadcast journalist Dan Caplis. The radio talk-show host had irked administration officials by suggesting that the city may have misled investors who had purchased Denver International Airport bonds.

Dawn Bookhardt joined the museum board in 1992, before the institution got serious about purchasing land in Dearfield. And museum board chairman Steve Shepard says he sees no conflict in her ties to John Bookhardt and Boon and Boon. "It's not even an issue," Shepard says. "From my standpoint, all of those issues are really not surprising, and they're not something that can't be overcome. If I was really concerned about these types of issues, I wouldn't be doing this at all."

But others say they smell a rat. Denver artist Donnie Betts, who helped produce an award-winning 1995 documentary about Dearfield that aired on Channel 6, refers to John Bookhardt as a "shagster. He doesn't deal on the up and up." After Betts and Channel 4 anchor Reynelda Muse had completed their well-received documentary, Betts says, Dr. Bookhardt came calling.

"He approached me and Reynelda about using the videotape in some kind of promotional video," says Betts. "The purpose of the video was never to be used in that manner. It was educational." The two men met only once, but Betts says the experience left a sour taste in his mouth. Says the artist, "He was a little too slick."

Friends describe John F. Bookhardt as a good doctor and a shrewd businessman. They say he's good at making money in oil and gas ventures. But he also has a knack for finding trouble.

"He's an extremely successful businessperson," says Ted Hunt, a retired Denver physician and a friend of Bookhardt's. "He worked the hell out of properties and became pretty well-known. He wasn't shucking and jiving. He had the bucks, baby."

In recent years, Hunt says, Bookhardt has virtually dropped off the face of the earth, not returning calls and keeping a low profile. Few of the people who've been working on the Dearfield project even realize that he lives in Denver. Reached by phone at his home, John Bookhardt declined to be interviewed by Westword and then hung up.

However, Bookhardt has been a player in Dearfield since the mid-1970s. In 1975 his Carbook Corporation acquired a deed of trust on about 400 acres of land in Dearfield for $69,000. In a 1983 deed on file with the Weld County Clerk, he was identified as the registered agent for Boon and Boon, which had acquired land in the same area.

In 1981 Bookhardt was sued by a Wyoming couple who had loaned him $75,000 secured in part by the deed on his Dearfield property. That couple, Leo and Genevieve Aimonetto, claimed they later learned that Bookhardt had misled them about the loan collateral. A Weld County district judge entered a default judgment against Bookhardt for the debt, which, with interest, amounted to $97,000.

The Aimonetto case wasn't Bookhardt's only brush with the justice system. In 1985 he pled guilty in Denver District Court to one count of theft and one count of obtaining drugs by fraud and deceit. The theft charge stemmed from Bookhardt's having filled out Medicaid reimbursement forms for patients he had never treated. The second count was for writing bogus prescriptions for the controlled substance Dilaudid. According to court records, Bookhardt filled out hundreds of prescriptions in the early 1980s and acquired some 50,000 tablets of the drug in a two-year time span, enough to attract the attention of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He was sentenced to probation in the criminal case, and in 1992 the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners revoked his license.

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