GEO Group Staffers Accused of Listening to Privileged Phone Calls

Did GEO Group staffers snoop on a detainee's privileged phone calls?
Anthony Camera
Did GEO Group staffers snoop on a detainee's privileged phone calls?
When Timothy Spikes was arrested in mid-2019 for alleged drug dealing out of a Lakewood apartment, the most salacious aspect of the case — which involves charges of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin trafficking — was the fact that his co-defendant, a woman named Sylvia Montoya, worked as a deputy with the Denver Sheriff Department.

But recent updates to the case, scheduled to go to trial in the U.S. District Court of Colorado in November, reveal more startling developments.

Court documents show that in 2019 and 2020, three employees of GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the Aurora Contract Detention Facility where Spikes is currently being held, accessed privileged calls between Spikes and his attorney, Benjamin Hartford, that had been recorded by the facility's automated system. And one of those employees, Brigitte Dolan, happens to be the common-law wife of Anthony Foster, a sergeant with the Denver Police Department involved with the case.

GEO Group is best known in Colorado for housing Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility as they go through deportation proceedings. But the facility also houses individuals awaiting trial in federal court, such as Spikes.

Brigitte Dolan was working for GEO Group as a sexual-assault investigator at the Aurora center when she accessed a recording of a December 2019 call between Spikes and Hartford twice in one day, according to court documents.

Jill Jackson, one of the attorneys now representing Spikes and Montoya in their joint defense, referred to the connection between Dolan and Foster as “very troubling” in a July 22 email sent to Celeste Rangel, the prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado who is working on the case.

“Dolan repeatedly visited with Timothy Spikes while he was in custody at GEO, there should be a log of each visit, as Spikes recalls she signed in and out using a pink pen. Dolan engaged in lengthy conversations with Spikes, including asking him detailed information about this case and prying into his connection and relationship with Montoya," Jackson wrote in the email.

Rangel and Matthew Pound, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, called Foster the next day.

Pound's write-up of that call is now an exhibit in the federal case. According to Pound, Foster said that when he learned Spikes would be housed at the GEO facility, he "immediately told Dolan that Dolan should avoid any and all contact with Spikes due to there being a conflict of interest, but if Dolan did have any contact with Spikes to ensure that there was another person present with Dolan."

Before his indictment, the DPD had identified Spikes in investigative documents as a "high-level drug dealer in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood."

According to Pound, Foster said that he hadn't told Dolan any details of the case involving Spikes and Montoya, and that she only became aware of the investigation "when Dolan saw the media stories related to Spikes and Montoya who at the time of arrest was employed as a Deputy for the Denver Sheriff’s Department," Pound's report noted. The department fired Montoya a few months after her indictment.

Foster, who'd had previous interactions with Spikes, told the feds that he "never discussed any details of the case with Dolan but did advise Dolan to inform Dolan’s chain of command after finding out that Spikes was being housed in GEO of Sgt. Foster’s involvement in the case." He said she'd done that.

Foster denied asking Dolan to contact Spikes in person, and said that he'd never obtained or accessed the GEO Group phone-call system or listened to any calls involving Spikes, Pound reported.

Normally, calls between an attorney and a client are privileged, and a detention facility should not be recording them. According to GEO Group, Spikes only provided Hartford's office number for the facility's attorney list that exempts calls on those numbers from being recorded. But Spikes sometimes called Hartford's cell phone, whose number wasn't in the system, and vice versa, so those calls were automatically recorded.

Over the course of the second half of 2019, federal law enforcement agents requested recordings of Spikes's calls, since they believed he was communicating with Montoya. When they realized they were listening to privileged phone calls between Spikes and his attorney, they immediately reported the problem.

But while the feds were investigating what had led to the recordings, and also looking into Hartford's allegations that other law enforcement entities may have listened to privileged calls, they stumbled onto more discoveries.

In January, GEO Group provided the ATF with a list of people who had accessed the recorded calls between Spikes and Hartford. It included three names, including that of Brigitte Dolan.

The lawyers for Spikes and Montoya then put a private investigator on the case, who uncovered the connection between Dolan and Foster; the defense attorneys relayed that information to the prosecutorial team in July.

As a result of GEO Group's internal investigation into employees accessing those phone calls, the company fired Dolan in April. At least two other employees were also fired, according to court documents; one has been rehired.

After she was fired, Dolan told Foster that she had never "accessed or listened to any attorney/client privileged calls involving Spikes and his attorney. Dolan told Sgt. Foster that there are problems with the GEO inmate phone system that GEO has failed to correct. It should be noted, per Sgt. Foster, that Dolan is actively appealing Dolan’s termination with GEO and has in fact hired an attorney to represent Dolan in this ongoing matter," Pound reported.

The attorney representing Dolan in her appeal, Deborah Yim, notes that her client is "denying everything." Dolan "was very forthright about a potential conflict of interest," she adds. "She came right out and said I shouldn’t be placed on any case work with this particular inmate. And then she gets accused of listening on some sort of attorney-client calls."

The GEO Group call-log system that shows Dolan as having accessed a call between Spikes and his attorney is "disorganized" and "sometimes freezes," she told Yim.

"If you click on something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you listened to it," Yim explains.

Hartford requested further investigation of the allegations of unauthorized access to his client's calls. Early this month, however, Judge William J. Martinez of the U.S. District Court of Colorado ruled that Hartford's motion had been filed after certain deadlines had passed. And even if it had been filed on time, Martinez added, he would have denied the motion because he didn't believe that Spikes and Montoya had "plausibly allege[d] a Sixth Amendment violation."

The judge noted that "it likewise strains credulity (to say the least) that Spikes would not have been immediately suspicious if any GEO employee began repeatedly visiting him and asking him detailed questions about his case and relationship with Montoya."

Federal prosecutors say they've been prodding GEO Group for more information on its internal investigation. "To date, and despite these efforts, the results of the internal investigation have not been provided to the government,” they wrote in a recent filing.

Yim would like to know more, too, particularly since her client wants her job back. "It’s been kind of a whirlwind with GEO, and I just don’t know what’s going on with them right now," the attorney says. "They just keep coming back and saying, 'We’re thinking about it, we’re thinking about it.'"

GEO Group and the DPD did not return requests for comment. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment, citing the fact that the case is still being litigated; Hartford also declined to comment.