A falling out among "coconspirators" in Jeffco spy case

The proverbial wheels of justice turn slowly but not always surely. So it's always interesting when the gears spit out a real acknowledgment of wrongdoing, even if the folks involved are all pointing fingers at each other.

Recent documents filed in Mike Zinna's long-running court battles with Jefferson County government show various current and former county officials engaged in a particularly nasty, if murky, bit of blamestorming. Developer turned gadfly turned muckracker and talk-show host, Zinna has sued the board of county commissioners and others, claiming that they hired private investigators to spy on him, destroyed documents in other court actions, hacked into his computer files and tried to ruin him with defamatory posts on an anonymous website--a campaign of dirty tricks and retaliation that was the subject of my feature "The Lords of Payback" last year.

One of Zinna's chief targets in the lawsuit was private investigator Daril Cinquanta, who was hired by the county to investigate Zinna. But Cinquanta is no longer a defendant in the case and evidently reached a settlement with Zinna that includes providing information to the plaintiff about the county's anti-Zinna campaign--setting off a domino effect of other denials and accusations among the accused.

In an affidavit filed in federal court recently, Cinquanta states that former county attorney Frank Hutfless ordered him to investigate Zinna's background and conduct surveillance on him. "It appeared to me and was my opinion that Mr. Hutfless was driven to destroy Mr. Zinna," Cinquanta writes.

In response to that tidbit, Zinna also obtained and filed a declaration from Hutfless, who claims he resisted former county commissioner Jim Congrove's efforts "to coerce me into gathering and providing him with what I now to be illegally obtained information regarding Mr. Zinna," and that he quit because Congrove made things unpleasant for him after Hutfless fired Cinquanta and another friend of Congrove's. Like a ref reviewing the video replay, Hutfless now states, "on further reflection and examination of recent publicly-released evidence," that he thinks Congrove, Commissioner Kevin McCasky and others could have been involved in illegal activities.

That assertion brought angry denials of any wrongdoing from McCasky and Congrove. But McCasky has also added to the document dump, producing a couple of e-mails to Congrove from the creator of the shadowy anti-Zinna website, telling Congrove how he can log on anonymously. The e-mails are generic, yet their presence in McCasky's files long after discovery in the case was supposedly over raises some sticky questions--for both him and Congrove, who didn't run for re-election last year.

No doubt all this will take some sorting out by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch before the case heads to trial later this year. But with so many former chums apparently eager to flip on each other, the defense seems to be running short of witnesses.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast