Stephanie Villafuerte's latest strategy: simulated openness
The nomination as U.S.Attorney of Stephanie Villafuerte hasn't gone nearly as smoothly as the Obama administration would like, due largely to accusations that she was involved in the political accessing of a federal database during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign -- the very act for which former ICE agent Cory Voorhis was sacked.
In October, Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Governor Bill Ritter, Villafuerte's former boss in the Denver District Attorneys Office, told the Denver Post that she would likely not answer questions about this matter until after her confirmation -- but yesterday, that strategy changed. A letter she sent to Senator Mark Udall was released to the public. In the missive, which can be read in its entirety below, she denies any wrongdoing in a way that's designed to squelch the controversy.
Not going to happen -- but from a political standpoint, it could be an effective move.
The letter is skillfully written, as one would assume from Villafuerte, who notes on a number of occasions her fifteen years of experience in dealing with criminal defendants. But there's also at least one significant gap, relating to the content of a fourteen-minute telephone conversation conducted back in 2006. She says that she doesn't remember the content of the chat, with Chuck Lepley of the Denver District Attorneys Office, but is absolutely certain it couldn't have been about the aforementioned database -- a conclusion she explains in a manner that's not entirely convincing.
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Villafuerte dodges the question of her continued refusal to talk about these issues with the press -- specifically the Denver Post, which has done impressive work on the story. Releasing the letter gives her an excuse to shrug off future interview requests as well, thereby relieving her of the prospect of cross-examination, which can be dangerous, as she well knows.
Whether this letter and the accompanying packet of information provided by Senator Udall and co-signatory Senator Michael Bennet -- see the entire sheaf here -- will be enough to prevent an open hearing on the Villafuerte nomination is unknown at this point. Such a session will likely happen only if there's substantial pressure from Republicans, who may or may not want to get into the minutia of three-year-old phone logs. If not, Villafuerte will probably become U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado without ever having to discuss the matter in a public forum.
Here's the Villafuerte letter:
The Honorable Mark Udall United States Senator Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Udall:
Thank you for your continued support for my nomination to be the United States Attorney for the District of Colorado. I am writing in response to questions raised in a Denver Post article that appeared on October 23, 2009, and in subsequent Post editorials from October 23, and November 1, 2009. This letter provides information that clearly establishes: (1) at no time did I violate the letter or spirit of the law regarding possession of federal criminal database information from the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC); and (2) at no time was I in any way dishonest with the investigators in the Cory Voorhis investigation.
The recent Post article and editorials have taken certain facts and openly speculated about what might have happened during the week of October 9, 2006, while I was working for the Ritter for Governor Campaign.
Because Mr. Ritter had served as a career prosecutor for twenty years, his campaign anticipated that he would likely be challenged on his law enforcement record by his opponent, Bob Beauprez. Before working for the Ritter Campaign, I had 15 years of experience as a prosecutor in both the state and federal criminal justice systems and was generally familiar with confidential criminal databases, including the NCIC database. From this experience, I was aware that (1) much of the information on the NCIC database is not available to the public; and (2) prohibitions exist regarding access to this information. Thus, at all times I was careful to obtain for the Ritter Campaign material that was only available from public sources, and never from the NCIC or other non-public databases. Put simply, in my role for the Ritter Campaign I had no direct access to confidential criminal databases, nor would I seek such access through any means.
One of the Beauprez advertisements that I researched involved a defendant by the name of Walter Noel Ramo who was also known as Carlos Estrada Medina (Ramo/Estrada Medina). This particular Beauprez ad said that while Mr. Ritter was Denver District Attorney:
1. Ramo/Estrada Medina was allowed to plea bargain to a charge (Trespass on Agricultural Lands) that did not result in his being deported to his native country but instead, as a result of that plea, he received probation.
2. After his plea and sentence in Denver, Ramo/Estrada Medina went to California, where he committed a sexual offense against a minor in case #2109193.
When this Beauprez ad aired on October 10, 2006, neither I nor a number of prominent reporters were able to locate any information on publicly available databases regarding Ramo/Estrada Medina under the name "Carlos Estrada Medina." Additionally, neither I nor various reporters were able to link Ramo/Estrada Medina to California case #2109193. This was because California, unlike Colorado, does not have an open records system that allows citizens to access public court documents on-line.
This was not the first time the Ritter Campaign had suspicions that the Beauprez Campaign had access to information that was not otherwise available to the public. Prior to the Ramo/Estrada Medina ad, we had researched approximately seven other advertisements. In all seven cases we were unable to find -- in any public databases -- critical information regarding the immigration or national origin status of the defendants who appeared in the Beauprez ads. Therefore, the Ramo/Estrada Medina ad was the eight time that the Beauprez Campaign appeared to have access to information that was not available to the general public. The research that I conducted of all publicly available records in Colorado after the eighth ad appeared on October 10, 2006 (see details below), reinforced my belief that the Beauprez Campaign had to be using a confidential criminal database, specifically the NCIC database, to create its campaign ads.
The recent Denver Post article and related editorials raise two basic questions:
1. Did I obtain NCIC information from the Denver District Attorney's Office in my effort to verify that the Beauprez Campaign had accessed the NCIC database to create the October 10 ad? The answer is emphatically "no."
2. Was I honest when I told FBI agents that I did not have conversations with anyone at the Denver District Attorney's Office (specifically Chuck Lepley and Lynn Kimbrough) regarding the Ramo/Estrada Medina case? The answer is absolutely "yes."
Regarding the first question, I did not receive any information from the Denver District Attorney's Office about the Ramo/Estrada Medina case, and nothing in the investigators' detailed reports and the evidence in the Voorhis case suggests anything to the contrary. The Post article speculates that I must have somehow accessed the NCIC database, This conjecture assumes that if I wanted to determine that the Beauprez Campaign was illegally accessing the NCIC database, I myself had to access the information in that database. That assumption is simply false. In fact, my conclusion that the Beauprez Campaign ad contained information from the NCIC database was based upon:
• Review of seven prior Beauprez Campaign ads that could not be fully corroborated by use of any public data.
• My independent research and investigation on Ramo/Estrada Medina, which showed that information in the ad was not available in the following public records:
-- The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) criminal database (See Attachment 1);
-- Denver District Court files; and
-- California court records (the Ritter Campaign engaged a private investigator to retrieve California court file #2109193, which was mentioned in the ad. The Ritter Campaign did not receive the California court file until about October 18, 2006. This public court file fails to confirm the details in the Beauprez ad. (California court information is available upon request);
-- My 15 years of training and experience in dealing with criminal defendants and background check information; and
-- Most importantly, the admission by the Beauprez Campaign on October 11, 2006, on Channel 9News that the information underlying their October 10 ad could be corroborated by federal databases and by looking at "FBI and A numbers" -- information that I knew was available only from the NCIC database.
My initial conclusion that the Beauprez Campaign had accessed the NCIC database occurred before I saw the Channel 9News report -- which only reinforced my suspicions -- and I sent those conclusions to the Ritter Campaign's legal counsel, Trey Rogers, on October 11 at 2:53 p.m. (See Attachment 2). I then sent Mr. Rogers the link to the Channel 9News report on morning of October 12 as further evidence of misuse of the NCIC database. (See Attachment 3). In turn, Mr. Rogers initiated a formal verbal complaint with the CBI on October 12 at 3:00 p.m. Records would later show that the Denver District Attorney's Office ran an NCIC query on Ramo/Estrada Medina on October 12, at approximately 3:47 p.m.
As a result, it was impossible for the Ritter campaign to have benefited from the NCIC information obtained by the Denver District Attorney's Office because by the time the District Attorney's Office obtained that information, the Ritter Campaign had already formed its conclusions and filed its complaint with the CBI.
As to the second question raised by the recent Denver Post article and related editorials, I was at all times honest and forthright with FBI agents when I stated that I did not have conversations with members of the Denver District Attorney's Office about the Ramo/Estrada Medina case.
A phone log from the Denver District Attorney's Office indicates that I left a message for public information officer Lynn Kimbrough on October 10, at 9:00 a.m. The log estimates this call to be two minutes long. I called seeking public information about the criminal case that was the subject of the ad -- this request was entirely permissible under Colorado law and was part of my job. The next day, October 11, three calls were logged between Ms. Kimbrough and myself that were one to three minutes in length. I do not recall speaking with Ms. Kimbrough during any of these very short calls on either day, and I believe that I simply left messages for her. As a result, we did not discuss information about the Ramo/Estrada Medina case. Additionally, I would not and did not seek NCIC information from Ms. Kimbrough via voice-mail or otherwise.
Moreover, on October 11 at 2:53 p.m. (almost three hours after the last call between Ms. Kimbrough and I was logged) I sent an e-mail to the Ritter Campaign's Legal Counsel, Trey Rogers, in which I stated I had no information to confirm the facts surround the Ramo/Estrada Median ad (See Attrachment 2). This memo is consistent with the fact that I did not speak with Ms. Kimbrough or other DA personnel and discuss the Ramo/Estrada case let alone obtain any information.
Finally, there are telephone records that indicate that I had one 14-minute phone conversation with Mr. Lepley on October 12 at about 9:00 a.m., and a second call to him on October 13 for two minutes. Three years later, I do not recall the substance of the longer call. I am also uncertain whether Mr. Lepley and I spoke on the two minute call.
There were a myriad of issues that I would discuss with Mr. Lepley during my leave of absence, including a security issue to which Mr. Lepley referred to in his testimony in a hearing in Federal District Court on February 5, 2008. Mr. Lepley said it was this security issue that was the main focus of his concern and his communications with me during the week of October 9. In fact, Mr. Lepley's phone logs indicate that he made several calls that week to various police administrators in order to help the campaign effectively deal with the issue. I recall the security issue that Mr. Lepley helped us address that week but cannot be certain whether the conversation on October 12 addressed this precise issue.
I did not discuss the Ramo/Estrada Medina matter with Mr. Lepley on October 12, October 13, or at any other time, because I believed that my research on that topic had concluded. Once the Beauprez Campaign had effectively admitted to accessing the NCIC database on Channel9News on October 11, and the CBI had been contacted, there would have been no reason to talk to Mr. Lepley about the merits of this case. Moreover, I did not seek nor did I obtain NCIC information from Mr. Lepley regarding the Ramo/Estrada Medina case. Again, the Ritter Campaign had already formed conclusions about the use of the database based upon an independent investigation and presented those findings to the CBI before the Denver District Attorney's Office ran the report from the NCIC database.
To be clear, I have never denied having contact with members of the District Attorney's Office during the campaign. I told investigators that Mr. Lepley and I would speak on a myriad of issues including my leave of absence, District Attorney personnel issues, and updates on the Ritter for Governor campaign. In fact, I stated to the FBI that I had contact with the office on campaign-related issues in the form of appropriate information requests on other cases. There would be no reason for me to represent otherwise in the Ramo/Estrada Medina case.
In conclusion, the record of what transpired the week of October 9 shows that I neither asked for nor received NCIC information from the Denver District Attorney's Office. To this date, I have never sought, let alone seen, NCIC confirmation that the individual referred to as Ramo.Estrada Medina in the Colorado and California cases was the same person.
When this situation arose in October 2006, I had been a career prosecutor for 15 years. I have always taken that role and my oath to uphold the law very seriously. While the Post articles and editorials imply that I was involved in political posturing on behalf of the Ritter Campaign, in fact I was not. To be sure, the research that I conducted led to serious consequences for a federal agent and possibly for a political campaign. However, once I was faced with what I believed to be overwhelming evidence of the misuse of a federal database I could not simply ignore it.
Throughout this case, I have been fully cooperative with the CBI and FBI officials. Additionally, throughout the United States Attorney selection and nomination process, I have openly discussed this situation with members of your staff as well as representatives from the Justice Deparment. I am willing to answer any additional questions that you might have.
Thank you for your time in this matter.
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