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Ramsey tough: This week's revelation that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gail Schoettler's husband Donald L. Stevens was a college buddy of John Ramsey's at Michigan State University has prompted the usual blast of conspiracy theories about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. More mystifying, though, than Stevens and Ramsey's status as former frat brothers at MSU--and the fact that Schoettler herself has met the happy couple--is that Schoettler somehow forgot to mention those family ties when she and other candidates were quizzed by the Denver Post late last week about how they'd handle the Ramsey mess as governor.

Let's see. Schoettler had been a guest in the Ramseys' Boulder home during a shindig held before the murder. She had met John Ramsey at a business dinner of her husband's after the murder. Big Don was buddies with the most prominent murder suspect in the Western Hemisphere and had rapped with him several times since JonBenet's death, a conversational opportunity for which the National Enquirer likely would have paid well into six figures. Stevens had even been questioned by police about the phone calls he placed to Ramsey's office. And another old Ramsey pal--Boulder oilman Fleet White, who has since turned against his old friends--was in the process of raising holy hell with an open letter to "The People of Colorado" alleging that a murky cast of Democratic power brokers was engaging in a coverup. Given all these mildly interesting and just slightly relevant details, might it not have occurred to the lieutenant governor to mention her obvious conflict of interest when a reporter called to ask how she would handle the Ramsey case as governor?

Not according to Schoettler campaign manager Mary Alice Mandarich. "To tell you the truth, it just didn't enter into her thinking when she responded to the Post last week," says Mandarich. "The reason is, she's never talked to the governor about the issue." Mandarich claims that the lieutenant governor was left out of official governor's-mansion discussions about the Ramsey case--even though White claims he told Romer about the Schoettler-Ramsey connection back in December. Because Schoettler was out of the loop, says Mandarich, the candidate saw no reason to divulge her husband's contacts with John-boy. It was instead left to White to make the connection in his open letter to the public, in which he suggested that powerful local Democratic lawyers and politicians have teamed up to make sure the Ramsey case is never prosecuted.

Mandarich downplays her candidate's Ramsey connection, alleging that police questioned Donald Stevens about his calls to Ramsey's office for only "about three minutes" during a single phone conversation and adding that since a grand jury is about to convene, a new governor's options with regard to the case would be limited anyway. Mandarich says she doesn't have details about the pre-murder party Schoettler attended at the Ramsey home but claims that the post-mortem business meeting offered few opportunities for hatching a conspiracy since the lieutenant governor was one of "about forty people" in the room. Meanwhile, Schoettler told the Rocky Mountain News that she didn't see what her husband's friendship with John Ramsey had to do with anything. Funny, that's just what she said when Westword reported last month that Don Stevens was once arrested on a domestic-violence charge involving his ex-wife.

Guess who's coming to dinner?

The hoax on you: If Ross Perot introduced the notion of the "giant sucking sound" to American public life and Monica Lewinsky perfected it, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is doing its best to keep the concept alive on the state level. How else to explain the paper's July 26 story about the Mesa County Fair? In that stirring opus, a reporter led with a quote from an eighteen-year-old demolition-derby spectator who blithely identified himself as Haywood Jablomi. The young reporter apparently didn't make much of the fact that the teenage Jablomi was "chuckling with his two friends" during the interview. She also didn't suspect anything when, instead of pronouncing his last name, the helpful Jablomi simply spelled it for her (word has it some newsroom personnel assumed the unusual name was "Arabic"). It was only after the story went to press and gleeful local radio DJs began reading the name over--and over--the airwaves that the newspaper realized it had blown it.

Closer to home, the only sucking sound comes from Washington Park, where at last word, intrepid parks and recreation personnel continue to drain Grasmere Lake in search of a ragin' caiman allegedly hiding out there. The elusive reptile, which may or may not exist, has yet to strike fear into the hearts of parkgoers. So far, in fact, the prevailing shoreside sentiment seems closer to sheer giddiness. But the little critter reportedly has already managed to get Denver Post editor Dennis Britton's knickers in a knot. After reading an editorial in the paper's August 21 early edition in which Post scribes complimented a "hilarious" press release issued by pranksters who claimed they'd staged the caiman controversy by inflating a rubber toy and guiding it around the lake by remote control, Britton reportedly insisted that the editorial that appeared in the paper's exalted final edition take a much sterner tone. The ensuing harrumph proclaimed that there was nothing at all amusing about the situation, because if the caiman did exist, it might actually eat a dog or something, and if it didn't exist, taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for conducting the gator hunt. Take that, pranksters. Clearly, it's time to send two cops out in a rowboat with an elephant gun and settle this thing.

Up in smoke: The long-standing beef between barbecue-meister Sam Taylor's Taylor Group Inc. and the City of Denver has finally been put to rest by a Denver District Court judge. Sophisticated carnivores will remember that Taylor's old restaurant at the city-owned City Park golf course was known for slopping up the spiciest 'cue this side of Kansas City--and that the whole thing fell apart after the Taylor Group was accused of cooking the books along with the ribs. A city hearing officer ruled last year that the restaurant had filed false and fraudulent tax returns, and Taylor coughed up a cash settlement. That didn't stop him from appealing the case to the district court, but in a recent ruling handed down last month, Judge Larry J. Naves seconded the hearing officer's belief that an odor distinctly unlike barbecue surrounded Taylor's business practices. Among other things, Naves noted the Taylor Group's "nearly impossible' claims that its pro shop made a total profit of just $72 in one fiscal year and its assertion that it owed absolutely no use tax for five consecutive years. The judge refrained from commenting on the likelihood of Taylor's claim that an unidentified "burglar" had made off with three years' worth of sales receipts that might have been used to prove the restaurant's case.

Don't cry for Sammy, though. Despite the court's ruling that his Taylor Group filed fraudulent returns in an effort to avoid paying taxes, he's still in business at his new restaurant on South Cherry Street in Glendale--thanks in part to a $435,000 loan guarantee from the federal Small Business Administration.

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