From Locusts to Limos

By Alan Prendergast

The rise of the Tea Party

"I thought that was quite unusual," says Ivan Widom, Central City's former city manager. "Bonniwell was an employee of the city, but he was actively supporting these people to keep them in office because that's where his support was."

Widom lost his job last May, after too many run-ins with the Tea Party faction over his criticisms concerning the costs of the southern road project. Lawsuits, lobbying fees and the thousands of dollars shelled out to Bonniwell and Pinkowski have left the revenue-strapped city with a staggering deficit, while the road remains a glimmering idea rather than a reality.

"Bonniwell told me numerous times that I wasn't a team player, that I wasn't going along with the program," Widom says. "Pinkowski was absent most of the time. He hardly ever showed up at meetings or was involved in government activities when I was there."

Mattivi and Skagerberg left office at the end of last year. Before that, Krause says, their supporters had relied heavily on absentee ballots to keep the pair in power: "I spent the last two elections and recall elections zipping up and down the street, catching them taking down signs, having people sign [ballots] on the back of Chuck's car. We've never had stuff like that before."

The group concentrated its efforts on Central City's one apartment complex. "They'd saturate that building with their newspaper and knock on every single door," Krause says. "They'd throw parties up there. They know where the votes are."

Does the Tea Party have similar designs on Cedar Pointe? Larsen offers several possible reasons that the group would devote so much energy to a lowly homeowners' association. "They want to exercise their ability to dominate small groups," he says. "Two, they want to solidify the voter base at Cedar Pointe before next April, to make sure the Tea Party candidates prevail [in the municipal election]. And, conveniently, there's a $450,000 treasury they want to get their claws into. It's chump change compared to what they did in Central City, but there's no meat left on the carcass there."

But the homeowners backing Harte and Line say that Larsen is wrong, if not delusional. "They want to make it look like there's this evil empire trying to take over the association," says Dunafon. "That's nonsense. I've told Larry and Chuck that if they get on the board, they run a bigger risk of being hated for their actions than they do of being liked. If you ask me, it's a dumb political move, especially for Larry Harte."

Why, then, bother to run at all? "Because Larry is so pissed off at [board president] Sharon Kratze for not keeping her word," Dunafon says. "It was Larry who got her elected. This is a personal issue for him."

Councilman Dunafon, usually among the most vocal and colorful of the Tea Party stalwarts, hasn't played an active role in the Cedar Pointe dispute; he has more pressing matters on his plate. In February federal agents searched a house in Castle Rock owned by Dunafon's domestic/business/political partner, Deborah Matthews, the owner of Shotgun Willie's. The search was in connection with a multi-state drug task force investigation of Rodney and Ruben Mirabal, two Aurora brothers who've been indicted in Virginia for their alleged role in distributing more than $35 million in cocaine and marijuana in cities across the country.

The Castle Rock house is the business address for Mr. Limos, a limousine service. Dunafon owns 50 percent of the business; Rodney Mirabal owns 40 percent. Drug Enforcement Administration agents suspect that Mirabal used the company as a money-laundering enterprise.

Tipsters in the industry told investigators that Mr. Limos used cash to purchase its custom stretch limos -- among them a Range Rover, a Navigator and a Mercedes, worth between $70,000 and $130,000 each. DEA surveillance of the Mr. Limos garage on various days, including nights and weekends, indicated that "rarely, if ever, were any limousines observed leaving the business." Another source in the limo business says the company was trying to cultivate trade among pro athletes, including Denver Broncos and Avalanche players, by offering them trips for rates that were well below industry standards.

Court records indicate that Ruben Mirabal and Rodney's wife, Elizabeth, were both employed by Shotgun Willie's parent company, the Bavarian Inn, at one point or another.

The investigation has caused little commotion in Glendale -- less, certainly, than last week's apparent suicide of city councilman Mike Barrett, a longtime Tea Party activist. Still, the Mr. Limos controversy has surfaced in the Cedar Pointe dispute: Recently, someone began distributing fliers in the condo complex asking residents if they want "drug dealers" to run their homeowners' association. (One version of the anonymous flier has Veggo Larsen's name on it, but Larsen denies any knowledge of the screed.)

But the Mirabals aren't running for the Cedar Pointe board. Neither is Dunafon, who hasn't even been charged in the investigation. He refers questions about Mr. Limos to his attorney, Harvey Steinberg, who says Dunafon was unaware of any cocaine ring, had no knowledge of Mr. Limos' day-to-day operations, and simply made a "bad investment decision."

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