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Off Limits

Belly up to the barbecue: Three years after local uranium magnate turned po' boy Oren Benton first filed for bankruptcy, lawyers and accountants still have their snouts buried in his estate. And, man, is the eatin' good. Featuring hundreds of millions of dollars in debts and an international cast of creditors that includes Russian and Chinese uranium traders and the Union Bank of Switzerland, Benton's collapse is the largest and most complex bankruptcy ever filed in Colorado. And the leftovers have proven irresistible to American professionals who specialize in sorting out other people's economic woes--and then taking their cut off the top. A while back, the feeding frenzy in the Benton case got so out of hand that chief bankruptcy judge Charles Matheson actually hired the silk-stocking law firm of Holland & Hart (the Fat Man) and assigned it to keep its fellow carnivores from completely devouring the estate (the Buffet). Records show the Fat Man (and other members of the fee review committee) already have reduced raids on the Buffet by approximately $689,000. But at last word, roughly half that savings had been wiped out by the fee police billing at least $350,000 for their own services. And according to the latest fee-application report filed last week at U.S. Bankruptcy Court, despite the Fat Man's best efforts, the Buffet is still open for business.

Leading the pack of ravenous customers is the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse, which in the latest reporting period asked for $1,002,692 in fees and costs, bringing its grand total for three years of work to a staggering $6,558,518. That breaks down to an incredible $6,000 per day for the accounting firm, which hired on to be the "financial advisor" to the creditors committee--also known as people owed money by Benton. Of course, Price Waterhouse was good enough to voluntarily knock off 33 percent of its travel charges between Chicago and Denver, and geez, Judge Matheson, that ought to count for something. Next in line are the lip-smackin' lawyers at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green & MacRae, who serve as legal counsel to the creditors committee. The LeBoeuf boys are demanding $570,000 for their latest three months' worth of work, and a total of $4.8 million for all the blood, sweat and tears they've poured into the case. And, gosh, Judge, the Fat Man has already made them put back that extra $9,136 they asked for because of "billing errors." Rounding out the Salivatin' Three is the law firm of Lindquist, Vennum & Christensen, attorneys for Benton himself. Their order: a mere $1,960,000, waiter, and bring us an extra lobster bib, would you, my good man?

The deadline for parties in the Benton case to object to the latest round of fees is March 9, but don't expect to hear many storms of protest amidst all the slurping and snorting. So far about the only person who's raised a peep about the communal pig-out is Benton himself, who last April tried to pitch a deal under which he'd borrow money and buy his own assets out of bankruptcy in order to funnel more money directly to creditors. That plan got shot down because of doubts about Benton's ability to come up with the cash, though he's already working on making his next billion with a new company. Having more luck are Price Waterhouse and LeBoeuf, Lamb, who last August successfully sold a plan under which the accounting firm will liquidate Benton's remaining assets and the law firm will represent the liquidating trust. Translation: Keep that grill fired up, Judge--there'll be more good eatin' in the months to come.

Speaking of friends of bills, Patton Boggs, the high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm where former commerce secretary and Clinton pal Ron Brown once got big bucks to blow Denver's horn as a paid lobbyist, continues to perform faithful service for city taxpayers. According to records on file at the city auditor's office, the city council's vote last month to fork over another $790,000 to Patton Boggs for its work on the Shattuck Chemical suit (and countersuit) brings the law firm's grand total in city business over the past six years to more than $7 million. That includes payments for work on the Lowry landfill and the Shattuck mess, as well as plenty of D.C. power-lobbying back in the go-go years of the Pena administration. But it doesn't take into account a $200,000 contract approved last summer to help guide DIA officials through the maze of environmental regulations necessary to build such projects as sixth runways, air trains and terminal hotels.

The firm (previously Patton, Boggs & Blow, but he blew) once was known around these parts for its rich tastes. For example, a billing statement from 1994 shows that the attorneys charged up to $200 per hour for such work as meeting with the city officials who'd hired them and for reviewing newspaper articles. (Our favorite: an April 8, 1994, entry demanding $175 for a meeting with City Attorney Dan Muse "regarding confidentiality and what Lowry information to provide to the press.") But the firm's gone on a diet since then, says Assistant City Attorney Lee Marable, who's overseeing the new DIA contract. Marable notes that, unlike past contracts, the airport job includes strict limits on charges for travel and meals; it even forces the firm to pay for its own faxes. Not only that, but Marable says the unexpected derailing of the Air Train in the recent Guide the Ride vote has led him to scale back the amount of work Patton Boggs is likely to do at DIA, leading to a corresponding decrease in billable hours. Says Marable of the firm's $200,000 deal: "I'd be real surprised if it exceeded $50,000."

Promises, promises: Bill McCartney's Promise Keepers may fall apart unless God comes up with a better financial plan, but James Dobson is poised to feed on the carcass. Dobson, chief of Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based Christian media empire that rakes in more than $100 million per year, is now peddling a series of conferences aimed at enticing women whose husbands have attended Promise Keepers rallies. The first "Renewing the Heart" rally drew 20,000 women to Nashville last September, and now Dobson, who propped up Promise Keepers with staffers, books and organizational know-how, is plunging in headfirst, announcing that he'll hold five conferences this year in Philadelphia, Tampa, Nashville, San Antonio and Greensboro, North Carolina. Hey, ladies, this is "an exceptional one-day event designed to encourage all women as they seek to discover God's special plan for their lives." Dobson explains in his latest letter to the flock that it's all part of his "Campaign for Righteousness": FOF, he writes, has received many calls and letters from women whose husbands "were experiencing spiritual awakening and camaraderie through men's ministries, especially Promise Keepers. These women expressed a deeply felt need for renewal, encouragement and fellowship, too, and would we provide something of substance for them?" Why, Lord yes, girls! If you've got $48, you'll get to hear Dobson's wife, Shirley, and a gaggle of speakers. Plus you can purchase a bunch of neat stuff, like brocaded sweatshirts, ball caps, books and other FOF merchandise. If you go, though, don't think about recording your own spiritual awakening on audio- or videotape. The fine print on the "Renewing the Heart" brochure warns that FOF will be taping the rallies "for commercial purposes" and may use your likeness to make even more money.

And the winner is: It's a tie! This year's award for creative writing goes to both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post for their fancy footwork in dancing around a sticky--and stinky--situation.

To set the stage: The 120-year-old Colorado Press Association, whose membership includes just about every paid-circulation newspaper in the state, announces the results of its newspaper contest every February at an annual convention. The contest is divided into six categories, including a top-dog classification for dailies with a circulation of over 100,000. Only three Colorado dailies have circulations over 100,000; one of them, the Colorado Springs Gazette, resigned from the CPA last year over a matter of principle (the organization's refusal to allow free papers to become full-fledged members). Then, in a fit of pique over the CPA getting involved in a dispute over the eyewitness list for the Gary Davis execution, the Denver Post refused to enter the CPA's most recent editorial contest (even though deathwatcher Kevin "Hug-a-Thug" Simpson got to keep his seat in Canon City).

And so, when the editorial winners were announced Saturday, it was no surprise that the News "swept a statewide journalism competition," as the paper reported the next day: It was the only paper in the class. The News story acknowledged that fact, noting, "The victory was expected because the Denver Post, which for several years has trailed the News in the editorial contests, entered only advertising categories."

Apparently, entering even that portion of the contest was a mistake--someone at the Post forgot to communicate the paper's pissiness to all departments. Still, the Post was happy to announce its advertising wins in Sunday's paper and even touted prizes awarded to recent Post hires for stories they wrote while at other papers. But next year, the Post won't have bragging rights to even that much: At Friday's CPA membership meeting, it was revealed that the Post has resigned from the organization altogether. And the reason, according to CPA chairman Barrie Hartman, was the Davis flap.

Adding fuel to the Post's ire was the fact that, even though the Post refused to enter the editorial contest, the CPA hadn't eliminated the large-daily category. At a meeting November 10 with the Post's editor and publisher, "We explained... that it was up to the Rocky Mountain News to decide if it wanted to withdraw its 221 entries," Hartman told the CPA membership. "I explained to Ryan McKibben and Dennis Britton that the board had learned its lesson from the Gary Lee Davis execution issue, that it would not get involved in the Denver newspaper war."

At that, the Post took its ball of newsprint and went home. In announcing the paper's resignation from the CPA, Hartman noted, "I hope everyone realizes what a bind the board is put in when newspapers threaten to cancel their membership if they do not get their way on an issue."

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